Forecasters Nailed Tornado Forecast in New Orleans

As an update to the story about tornadoes hitting New Orleans. We know much more now and some of it is pretty astounding… to me at least.

First, as for the damages, hundreds of houses where damaged or destroyed, at least 34 people injured, some critical, and one person dead. The dead woman was 83 year old Stella Chambers who was living in a FEMA trailer while rebuilding her house and her life after Katrina. The FEMA trailer was tossed hundreds of feet and her partially rebuilt home was reduced to shards. more on the storm.

Looking at some of the aerial photos it is astounding more people where not killed.

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How would you like to have been in one of those hotel rooms?

Ironically, Katrina saved some lives here; many of the leveled homes where still unoccupied. Although the media is reporting the hotel above was full at the time. (yikes)

The weather geeks are now saying that officially it was two different F2 tornadoes that touched down, cutting the 12 mile swath of destruction. And incredibly they called it ahead of time with uncanny accuracy.

Forecast a day earlier hit nail on head
Emergency officials were briefed Monday
By Mark Schleifstein

National Weather Service forecasters issued an eerily accurate forecast 24 hours before a thunderstorm produced at least one tornado that ripped across the West Bank of Jefferson Parish and New Orleans early Tuesday.

On Monday at 3:24 a.m., forecasters in the Slidell office of the National Weather Service warned of tornadic supercell thunderstorms, accompanied by winds as high as 79 mph, golf ball-sized hail and the potential of a tornado ranked as a 3 on the new Enhanced Fujita Scale.

It estimates wind speed on a scale of 1 to 5, based on damage measured on the ground after the event. A 3 is equivalent to winds of 136 to 165 mph.

Robert Ricks, the lead forecaster who oversaw the meteorologists on duty during the early mornings both Monday and Tuesday, said that in approving the forecast, he relied on only one of several weather forecast models that predicted the tornadic storms would form. The other models, he said, indicated the storms would form later in the day on Tuesday.

Weather officials quickly doubled their forecasters on duty early Tuesday. And Monday at 3 p.m., they briefed emergency operations personnel in parishes throughout southeastern Louisiana about the upcoming storms. …

By the time Ricks returned to duty in Slidell at midnight Monday, the forecast was turning into reality.

Forecasters were watching so-called “rogue cell” thunderstorms form in advance of a squall line of connected thunderstorm activity that had formed well in advance of a strong cold front.

“We put up a (weather) balloon at midnight, and it came back with readings showing that the air mass had really destabilized quickly, compared to the 6 p.m. balloon,” Ricks said. “The moisture content was much deeper, and the spin of winds at different levels was like going up a spiral staircase, increasing in speed as you go up in the atmosphere.” Those conditions exactly describe the way tornadoes form, he said.

“Then it was just a matter of watching cells developing,” he said.

The first within the Slidell office’s forecast area popped up in southern Terrebonne Parish below Thibodaux and moved across Lafourche Parish. Doppler radar in the bureau’s operations center displayed the telltale sign of rotation: deep red color indicating wind moving away, right next to deep green showing winds moving toward the same point, both at high rates of speed. At first, the radar showed the spinning above ground. But then the thunderstorm split in two, and the one moving into St. Charles and Jefferson parishes had a signature showing the rotation touching down.

“I remember making a comment to the radar operator that that’s bad news for the city of New Orleans,” Ricks said.

The whole rest of the article is worth reading but I had to clip it somewhere. I know that the meteorologists predict tornadoes 10 times for every 1 that hits but still, kudos to the local weather geeks on this one.

And more kudos to the folks at the Times-Picayune who have been rocking since the storm.

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