TORNADOES, HEAVY RAIN HAMMER CENTRAL PLAINS, MORE STORMS EXPECTED
May 7, 2007 — The first EF-5 tornado in the United States since 1999 destroyed the town of Greensburg in southwest Kansas May 4 as part of a major, weekend outbreak of severe weather and flooding in the Central Plains, according to NOAA National Weather Service reports. As clean-up activities continued Monday, NOAA forecasters were urging residents and travelers to be aware of possible severe storms through much of the coming week. (Click NOAA image for larger view of the NOAA National Weather Service Dodge City, Kan., Doppler radar velocity data showing the incredible rotational "tornado vortex signature" shortly before leveling most of Greensburg, Kan. Please credit “NOAA.”)
Greensburg was evacuated after the tornado, and the town remains closed except to residents and emergency workers. A spokesman for the Kansas Department of Transportation office in Pratt said routing U.S. Highway 54 traffic around Greensburg is likely to continue the rest of the week. The detour totals about 85 miles.
"The devastation in Greensburg rightfully gained everyone's attention over the weekend, and our sympathy goes out to the families of those killed by the tornado." NOAA National Weather Service Central Region Director Lynn Maximuk said, "Greensburg residents experienced a level of destruction not seen in many years. We are thankful our staffs at the Dodge City forecast office and the NOAA Storm Prediction Center were able to provide watch and warning information in time for people to get to shelter.
"Southwest Kansas was hit hard by storms last weekend, but the storms aren't over for the central part of the country. Continued rain and severe weather is expected to compound flooding problems through much of this coming week. We encourage everyone to pay attention to local forecasts and commercial and NOAA Weather Radio All Hazards weather reports."
Maximuk said NOAA forecasters in Dodge City were able to issue a Tornado Warning 39 minutes before the 1.7 mile wide wedge tornado hit the town. Noting intensification in radar images and a bearing directly toward Greensburg, Dodge City weather staff updated with a Tornado Emergency message 10-12 minutes before the twister hit urging residents to get to shelter immediately.
A NOAA quick response team surveyed Greensburg damage May 5 and gave a preliminary rating of low end EF5 with wind speeds of about 205 miles per hour.
Maximuk said a broad area of low pressure moving slowly from the west encountered a warm front extending from western Nebraska into the Oklahoma and Texas Panhandles over the weekend. Fed by copious amounts of moisture from the Gulf of Mexico, the collision spawned an active period of severe weather. Since Friday, May 4, the NOAA Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla., received 136 tornado reports, 109 reports of high winds and 429 reports of large hail, mostly concentrated on the plains.
Heavy rains from the severe thunderstorms also caused major problems from South Dakota to Texas. Eighteen NOAA National Weather Service Central Region forecast offices had some type of flood watch, warning or statement in effect Monday morning. Flooding was occurring in Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota.
The NOAA Hydrologic Information Center reported flood gauges indicated major flooding in Scotland and Huron, S.D., and in Randolph and Union, Neb. Moderate flooding was indicated at 33 locations and minor flooding at 72.
"The focus for continued heavy rain for Monday is west Texas, most of Oklahoma but the Panhandle, southeast Kansas and much of Missouri," said NOAA National Weather Service Central Region Services Chief Mike Looney. "The center for the next two days remains in Texas and Oklahoma, but it won't take much more rain to worsen problems over a pretty big portion of the central part of the country.
Dan McCarthy at the NOAA Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla., said the weather pattern that brought severe weather over the weekend is expected to continue in the southern plains for several days. Storm Prediction Center forecasters predict damaging winds, hail and possibly tornadoes from southern New Mexico through much of Texas and Oklahoma and into western Arkansas.
"The main weather system that has been over the southwestern United States is now moving to the northeast," McCarthy said, "but it is leaving a part of a new trough over southeast Arizona and southwest New Mexico. So, severe weather will be over the southern Plains through the middle of the week."
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