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NOAA image of tornado damage in Union and Johnson County, Ill., taken by NOAA's National Weather Service forecast office in Paducah, Ky., on April 28, 2002.April 29, 2002 — An outbreak of tornadoes Sunday left pockets of devastation from Kentucky to Maryland's eastern shore, killing at least six people. Meanwhile, parts of Minnesota and Wisconsin were socked with up to 20 inches of snow. Heavy rains from the weekend pushed some rivers and streams passed flood stage in the Midwest. (Click NOAA image for larger view of tornado damage in Union and Johnson County, Ill., taken by NOAA's National Weather Service forecast office in Paducah, Ky., on April 28, 2002. Click here to see more photos.)

Forecasters at NOAA's National Weather Service said the weekend's weather was triggered by a vigorous upper-level storm system, as it moved from the Midwest to the East. Along the way, the system picked up warm, moist air from the Gulf of Mexico and drew colder air in from Canada. The resulting violent clashes between the warm, moist air near the surface, and cold, dry air higher up created a series of severe thunderstorms and devastating tornadoes.

"The combination of these factors causes thunderstorms to spin up quickly, and sometimes causes the entire storm to rotate and spawn tornadoes," said Joe Schaefer, director of NOAA's Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla.

Tornadoes Wreak Havoc
NOAA satellite image of tornado that cut across Maryland on April 28, 2002.NOAA's National Weather Service meteorologists were surveying damages Monday in areas of Maryland, Tennessee, Missouri, Illinois, Ohio, Virginia and Kentucky. In Maryland, a powerful tornado killed three people and leveled parts of La Plata, a small town 25 miles south of Washington, D.C. A tornado in Missouri struck Marble Hill, killing a 12 year-old boy. In Kentucky and Illinois, tornadoes caused one death in each state. In Tennessee, a tornado injured 18 people 30 miles southeast of Nashville, and a tornado touched down in Ohio and caused widespread damages. (Click NOAA satellite image for larger view of tornado that cut across Maryland on April 28, 2002. Click to view a storm animation in .avi and .mpg formats.)

The damage assessment team from the Baltimore-Washington forecast office of NOAA's National Weather Service said the tornado that devastated portions of Charles County in southern Maryland was a F5 on the Fujita Tornado Damage Scale, a monster of a tornado. That means winds were in the 261-318 mph range, which can lift strong frame homes and blow them off their foundations, send automobiles flying through the air and toss them more than 109 yards, and debark trees. This is the first F5 tornado recorded in Maryland history.

The twister that touched down in Shenandoah, Va., was measured to be a F2, which is characterized by winds between 113-157 mph that can tear roofs off houses, demolish mobile homes, overturn box cars, lift cars off the ground and snap trees like twigs.

According to the SPC, April 2002 so far has registered 100 tornadoes. During an average April, the United States averages 140 tornadoes. Overall, the nation has recorded 140 tornadoes for the year. The SPC also said the seven total deaths reported this year is below the 24 tornado deaths usually recorded through April.

Storm damage assessment teams are on the scene of the destruction around the country to gauge the actual strength and path of the tornadoes.

For Paducah, Tornadoes Strike Three Times In A Week
Sunday's violent weather capped a week of severe storms for the forecasters at the National Weather Service office in Paducah, Ky. For Beverly Poole, meteorologist in charge at the office, it was a week she'll never forget. The office faced three rounds of tornado events: On April 21, a tornado struck Fairfield, Ill.; on Wednesday, the Paducah office issued tornado warnings for wide portions of the Tri-State area; then early Sunday morning, a tornado hit Providence, Ky., killing one person.

"In my 23 years as a forecaster, working in six weather offices, I have never seen a week like this before," Poole said.

The Snow Still Falls
To the north, snow-slickened highways in Minnesota are suspected as the cause of four traffic deaths. Snowfall totals of up to 10 inches were common across northern Minnesota and northern Wisconsin, according to forecasters at the National Weather Service forecast office in Green Bay. The snow storm knocked out power to 57,000 customers in Minnesota and 25,000 in Wisconsin.

A NOAA volunteer Cooperative Weather Observer measured 20 inches of snow in Elcho, Wis.

As Plains states residents recovered from the weekend storms, officials in northern Michigan declared a state of emergency following severe flooding. Officials in Marquette County declared a local state of emergency and joined with other officials in asking the governor to seek a federal declaration. Recent flooding washed out many roads in the western part of Michigan's Upper Peninsula, and Marquette County officials estimated it would take more than $850,000 to repair roads in that county alone.

Relevant Web Sites
NOAA's Storm Watch — Get the latest severe weather information across the USA

NOAA's Tornadoes Page

USA Weather Hazards

NOAA's Weather Page

NOAA's Storm Prediction Center

NOAA's National Severe Storms Laboratory

Media Contact:
John Leslie, NOAA's National Weather Service, (301) 713-0622