What will likely be one of the largest (if not the largest since record keeping began in 1950) March tornado outbreaks took place on 2 March 2012. The forecast, synoptic setup, and SPC product details can be found at this link. What I have for this post are a few examples of base reflectivity (BR) and storm relative velocity (SRV) that I captured during the event. At the height of the outbreak, it was very difficult to keep up with the multiple warnings, special weather statements, spotter reports, and multiple radar sites simultaneously. In fact, my Twitter feed on Hootsuite was probably posting an incredible 150-200 ‘tweets’ per minute making it almost impossible to keep up with the flow of info. During the outbreak, I was fortunate enough to capture a few radar images and two tornado warnings.
This scan, taken at 2019Z shows two tornadic supercells back-to-back. The supercell on the right produced the Henryville, IN tornado which resulted in significant damage and several fatalities. A classic ‘hook echo’ configuration can be seen as well as what’s often referred to as a ‘debris ball.’ This results from the radar beam hitting a large amount of airborne debris that results in a high reflectivity signature.
This scan, taken at 2023Z shows the same two tornadic supercells a few minutes later. Two tornadoes were still in progress and substantial damage was taking place.
The above scan taken at 2023Z shows the Storm Relative Velocity product for the two tornadic IN supercells. Two substantial couplets can be seen at the location of the mesocyclones. On the eastern supercell, high velocity data to the right of the couplet (pink colors) may be indicative of a very strong Rear Flank Downdraft (RFD) which, according to some research, instrumental in tornado genesis.
The Severe Weather Statement issued by the Louisville, KY NWSFO expresses the nature of the situation with a Tornado Emergency.
The same sense of urgency is expressed in this Tornado Warning issued by the Wilmington, OH NWSFO for the same tornadic supercells as they moved further east.
This reflectivity scan, taken at 2301Z, shows the supercell that produced a tornado that damaged a large portion of West Liberty, KY. The scan shows a classic supercell reflectivity image with a well defined hook echo and a “debris ball” just east of West Liberty.
Once again we see very strong wording in a tornado warning…this one being from the NWSFO in Jackson, KY with emphasis on a Tornado Emergency for the warned area.
The second base reflectivity image is from 0001Z and shows a more pronounced debris ball with 70dBZ at the precipitation core as well as high values at the center of the mesocyclone.
Tornado outbreaks in March are not unheard of and there are several events in the past that have made the “top ten” lists of March events including the Tri-State tornado of 1925. This event was certainly no exception and is likely to remain in the record books for some time to come. Fortunately, with doppler radar and spotter networks, the storms were well observed which no doubt kept the death toll from being much higher. Unfortunately, a significant portion of the fatalities occurred in mobile homes…deaths that could have easily been prevented…but only when a full understanding of the dangers of remaining in fragile and cheaply built structures is finally comprehended by the public.
This image is from a scan of a rotating supercell thunderstorm near Hodgenville, KY on 29 Feb 2012. Within the purple polygon, the couplet of strong rotation can clearly be seen. This is just another example of how doppler radar can literally see into the inner workings of a thunderstorm.