Spring of 2011 saw strange weather patterns continue. The winter of 2010-2011 was the coldest in decades world-wide, and spring began with a sweep of flash flooding and over 200 tornados across six states in the US. Meanwhile, the drought in Texas is fueling dozens of wildfires, with only two of their 254 counties unaffected by fire in the past four weeks.
An average April produces 163 tornadoes. While the numbers are high, the death toll is generally low, averaging less than 80 per year. Many years see as few as 35-40 tornado deaths. The storms of April 2011 saw over 200 tornados in a three day stretch, and a death toll as high as 44.
Storms began in Oklahoma on Thursday, April 14. They slammed their way over Okalhoma, Arkansas and Alabama, leaving a wake of wreckage, injury and death behind them. Friday saw more of the same as the super cells moved into Mississippi and Tennessee, producing multi-vortex storms, a fairly rare occurance, which were captured by dozens of ameature photographers and on cell phones. But the worst was yet to come.
On Saturday, two days into the surge of tornadic storms, the system hit Virginia nad the Carolinas. North Carolina alone saw over 190 tornados ripping through that state. Neighborhoods, small towns, agricultural areas and businesses all fell victim to the storms, where Govoner Beth Purdue declared the entire state a disaster area. When asked about the destruction on the ‘Today Show’ the govoner said, “It was like paper doll houses that were collapsed.” She went on to explain that FEMA (the Federal Emergency Management Agency) has been contacted and that twelve FEMA teams are on their way to the state. They will assist in coordinating recovery, which has already started in many neighborhoods. Piles of broken, smashed houses are beginning to appear in front yards as families help each other clear the debris to start over.
Many of the storms that slashed a path of disaster across the south-eastern United States appear to have been an F3, with winds reaching 165 miles per hour. Even smaller storms can lift cars and hurl them down the street. This system leveled schools, houses and businesses and left acres of plowed and seeded farmland in desolation. Purdue is uncertain of how the agricultural damage will affect the state, or of how to best help farmers whose land was damaged. She acknowledged that many labor hours would be needed to re-plow and re-seed the land.
While there are tragedies evident in every area of the affected states, such as the three children killed while taking shelter in the closet of a trailer house in Raleigh, NC and entire families lost in North Carolina, there are stories of hope and survival, as well.
In Sanford, NC customers of a Lowe’s Home Improvement Store saw an approaching tornado through the front windows. Herded by store employees to the back of the store. No lives were lost there although the store was completely destroyed. Across the states, stories are similar as families narrowly missed being home when tornados hit, or took shelter at the last minute and survived. Neighborhoods across the south and east vow to rebuild, to stay a community and refuse to allow the storm system to defeat them.
In Texas, drought conditions created a different problem for the Spring of 2011. Wildfires have ravaged the state, with fires from the capitol, Austin, to the more rural parts of the beef-producing state. Firefighters not only battled fires, but 60 mile per hour winds, which allow fires to jump up to 100 feet to begin new fires. One volunteer firefighter lost his life as he fought to save precious ranchland near his home. Towns state-wide had been evacuated, schools closed and homes lost to the flames. Firefighters across the state declare this the worst fire season in their memory, with fuel abundant due to the driest March on record.
Whether impossible fires or incredible tornados, the Srping of 2011 will be remembered in the United States as one of the most difficult. While some pray for rain, others beg for storms to stop. Strange weather patterns continue.