It all actually started on the 25th last year. The first tornadoes actually touched down in Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri, and Louisiana. A large EF-2 wedge tornado hit the town of Vilonia, AR on the evening of the 25th. Four people lost their lives. A death toll that would surge in the coming days. Tornadoes that day also hit the village of Hot Springs. Also, the Little Rock Air Force Base received extensive damage from a tornado.
On the 26th, the biggest tornado threat was over the same states as the 25th. However, this time SPC had issued a high risk for the area. Conditions were even more favorable. Most tornadoes that touched down that day were weak, but some were strong. An EF-3 tornado did considerable damage to Fort Campbell, KY. Tornado watches were issued further north as well with tornadoes touching down in Michigan and even one in upstate New York. There was 2" diameter hail damage done in Pennsylvania due to severe thunderstorms.
On the 27th, the tornado threat shifted into Mississippi, Alabama, and Tennessee with once again another high risk issued for the area. The risk for tornadoes was at it's peak! Meteorological conditions for tornadoes were about as good as they get and Mother Nature lashed out with several devastating and violent tornadoes.
One of those destructive tornadoes was an 1.5 mile wide EF-4 tornado that tore through Tuscaloosa up through northern Birmingham, AL. Here is a shocking and incredible video of this twister. Notice the fingers around the tornado at times. This was a multi-vortex tornado. Those fingers are essentially satellite tornadoes around the main funnel. Those little fingers can produce even more devastation because the winds are even faster than the main funnel.
April 27th had nearly 200 tornadoes touchdown breaking a record for a 24 hour period. Several towns were wiped of the map that day including the small town of Hackleburg, AL. Several Iowa State students I went to school with went down to Hackleburg to help with the recovery effort after finals were done in early May. Here's a story about it from the Iowa State Daily. They said the experience changed their lives as future meteorologists and as people.
The largest and most damaging outbreak would continue into the 28th, but it was less intense. In all, over the entire outbreak 358 tornadoes touched down doing a staggering $10.4 billion in damage. Sadly 321 people lost their lives. With tornadoes as strong as they were including 11 EF-4s and the maximum strength 4 EF-5s, fatalities would be hard to avoid. However, that number was immense, which began the re-evaluation of how meteorologists and emergency officials warn the public. Studies would be done showing that people depend too heavily on OUTDOOR warning sirens. They also need several confirmations to actually react to a threat. That has lead the National Weather Service to try a new approach to tornado warnings where they include harsher text in their warnings for specifically strong or devastating tornadoes that could impact a populated area.
There's a lot more work to do, and more thing need to be in changed, but it's a start. It's all about being prepared and taking the warnings seriously because this can happen anywhere. I'm glad to see so many people came out and got weather radios on Wednesday. They are a great investment! I think the lives lost in 2011 from tornadoes will help keep people safer in the future with changes in technology and policy that will be coming down the line. Let's hope we never have to see an outbreak like this again.