There were an estimated 305 tornadoes that swirled through the South in late April—a new record. Just what we don’t need—a new record for lousy weather!
You’ve seen the horrible statistics. As recorded by NOAA,
- This storm system “breaks the largest previous number of tornadoes on record in one event, which occurred from April 3–4, 1974, with 148 tornadoes.”
- “There were 340 fatalities during the 24-hour period from 8:00 A.M., April 27, to 8:00 A.M., April 28.”
- The Tuscaloosa–Birmingham tornado during the April 2011 event caused at least 65 fatalities. This tornado had a maximum width of 1.5 miles and a track 80 miles long.
- The outbreak had 2 EF5–level storms, the largest and fiercest tornadoes known.
- These are the most fatalities from a single tornado in the United States since May 25, 1955, when 80 people were killed by a tornado in southern Kansas (with 75 of those deaths in Udall, Kansas).
- The deadliest single tornado on record in the United States was the Tri-State Tornado (Mo., Ill., Ind.) on March 18, 1925, in which 695 died.
None of these statistics can adequately describe the damage a tornado does. Witnesses wandering in the rubble say that it is as if a bomb were dropped, with whole neighborhoods of housing just completely gone. Over a million homes and businesses were left without power. Six states were put under a state of emergency.
There I go again—with statistics—when the reality is that thousands of sad moments when people lose people they love and families lose everything they have fought to build. Statistics are how we retreat from the tragedy and reduce it to numbers.
The storm dropped so much water that it is increasing the record flooding on the Mississippi. The Mississippi River continues to rise, so much so that its tributaries are starting to flow backward! The tornadoes of April were so much more than mere statistics, and we will continue to feel their impact.
Evelyn Browning Garriss, historical climatologist, is a longtime writer for The Old Farmer's Almanac. She is also editor of The Browning World Climate Bulletin and has advised farmers, businesses, and investors worldwide on upcoming climate events and their economic and social impact for the past 21 years.