92nd American Meteorological Society Annual Meeting (January 22-26, 2012)

Wednesday, 25 January 2012: 4:00 PM
Central North Carolina Tornadoes From the 16 April 2011 Outbreak
Room 252/253 (New Orleans Convention Center )
Matthew Parker, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC; and J. Blaes, G. Lackmann, and S. Yuter
Manuscript (1.7 MB)

Thirty confirmed tornadoes occurred in North Carolina on April 16, 2011, the greatest one-day total for North Carolina on record. Several of these tornadoes hit highly populated areas, including the cities of Raleigh and Fayetteville. The tornado outbreak extended from South Carolina northward through Maryland; in this presentation, we will focus on central North Carolina, especially the NWS-RAH (Raleigh) county warning area (CWA). Nine tornadoes occurred in the RAH CWA, including two EF3 tornadoes, four EF2 tornadoes, and three EF1 tornadoes. Both of the EF3 tornadoes had estimated path lengths greater than 60 miles (100 km). There were 8 fatalities in the RAH CWA alone, making this the second-most deadly tornado day on record in central North Carolina.

The event was well anticipated, with the 12Z NAM model from the previous day (15 April 2011) forecasting CAPE values and 0-6 km shear vector magnitudes that would easily support supercells, as well as long, strongly curved hodographs with very large values of 0-1 km and 0-3 km storm-relative helicity. The mid-day 1600 UTC supplemental sounding from Greensboro, NC, revealed observed wind profiles that were even more favorable for supercells and tornadoes than what models had forecast, although thermodynamic instability was somewhat limited owing to widespread overcast and stratiform precipitation during the morning hours. A squall line had formed by 1600 UTC along a cold front that was crossing western North Carolina; this squall line accounted for 4 reports of weak tornadoes in southwestern North Carolina. Apparently due to the exceptional vertical wind shear and hodograph curvature, over the subsequent 2-3 hours, the squall line broke up into discrete supercells which then moved off of the primary cold front into the warm sector. During that time span, breaks in the overcast, accompanied by continuing warm advection, also led to surface temperature increases of roughly 5-6 degrees C. As a result, by 1800 UTC mesoanalyses indicated a broad region of CAPE values > 1000 J/kg over central North Carolina. By that time, a group of long-track supercells were moving rapidly northeastward and had begun to produce the stronger, longer-lived tornadoes that constituted the bulk of the outbreak in central North Carolina.

Our presentation will address both the unique meteorological aspects that caused 16 April 2011 to be a record-breaker in North Carolina, as well as some of the service and societal aspects of the warning delivery system during the outbreak.

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