What is a ‘super outbreak’ of tornadoes? Brent McRoberts of Texas A&M University explains.
Q: You sometimes hear of a ‘super outbreak’ of tornadoes. What does that mean?
A: A super outbreak is a large number of tornadoes occurring over a two- or three- day period that affects multiple states, says Brent McRoberts of Texas A&M University. “There are two super outbreaks that stand out above all others,” he notes. “The first is the outbreak of April 3-4, 1974. This outbreak saw 148 tornadoes that officially touched down in 13 states, killing 319 people. Another 5,400 people were injured and the entire storm track covered over 2,500 miles. The town of Xenia, Ohio, was hardest hit as an F-5 tornado slammed into the town and destroyed most of it, killing 32. The powerful tornado actually lifted several railroad cars off the tracks.”
Q: What is the other super outbreak?
A: The super outbreak of April 25-28 in 2011 produced an incredible 358 confirmed tornadoes all the way from Texas to Canada, McRoberts adds. “There were 211 tornadoes in just one day, on April 27, and four of those were classified as F-5. In all, 348 people were killed, with Alabama being especially hard hit, suffering 238 tornado-related deaths. This outbreak was also the costliest storm ever produced by tornadoes, resulting in over $11 billion in damages. Such ‘super outbreaks’ are rare, but they can literally destroy entire cities.”
Weather Whys is a service of the Department of Atmospheric Sciences at Texas A&M University.