Series of Tornadoes Ravage Gulf States

Outbreak of Tornadoes

In the early morning hours of January 21st, a band of severe weather moved into the Gulf of Mexico region, producing a number of deadly tornadoes.  More than 20 funnel touchdowns were reported in total. The worst tornado of the day hit near Purvis, Mississippi, and was rated EF3 on the Enhanced Fujita Scale which rates tornado intensity.  The funnel itself was nearly 900 yards wide, and the storm cut a path length of over 30 miles.  Sadly, four people died in this storm, and the number of homes and businesses that were damaged is still being assessed.

The following day (Jan 22), the Storm Prediction Center issued a High-Risk Severe Weather Event for the entire Gulf Coast region, the first such warning since 2014. In the subsequent 24-hour period, eight more tornadoes touched down.  The worst of the storm system decimated twenty homes with a tornado (estimated > EF2) impacting a trailer park near Adel, Georgia. Survivors described the early morning chaos as “horrific”, with trailers apparently being tossed like rag dolls by the twister.  To date, 15 people are confirmed to have died within Southern Georgia over the weekend.

By January 23rd, the storms weakened, though two more tornadoes were reported in Florida. Fortunately, there were no injuries reported and only minor damage to a pier and a mobile home park was confirmed.

Government Assistance to Affected Areas

A state of emergency was declared in Mississippi and Georgia in the aftermath of the weekend’s severe weather. FEMA has deployed to Alabama, Florida, Georgia, and Mississippi.  The Red Cross also deployed to Georgia on January 22nd to assist in relief efforts. Freshly sworn-in President Trump has promised relief assistance to the affected areas and also offered “our sincere condolences for the lives taken”.

Weekend Severe Weather Facts

  • Timeline: January 21-23
  • Locations: Texas, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Georgia, South Carolina, and Florida
  • Number of Tornadoes: 34+
  • Highest Reported Winds: 145 mph
  • Casualties: 20+
  • Damages: Estimated $200 Million
  • News Article: WunderBlog


NOAA, Wunderground, Storm Prediction Center

Nation Braces for More Severe Storms

Another Severe Storm on Deck

As much of the United States is still feeling the effects of the severe storms that distressed the country last week, the nation braces for another round of severe weather.  Quick on Winter Storm Jupiter’s coattails is another severe storm, which already has a name.  Winter Storm “Kori” is forecast to hit the west coast by mid-week, establishing yet another atmospheric river over the region. Multiple weather warnings have been issued well ahead of this storm as most of the Pacific Northwest prepares for flooding, ice, freezing rain, and high winds. Parts of the Portland metro area along with the Washington Cascades and the Columbia River Gorge will have the greatest chance for damaging ice accumulations as cold air and precipitation will linger in those areas the longest.

severe storms

Precipitation Forecast for the Next 7 Days.

The storm is expected to persist through the weekend as the front plows eastward. Meanwhile, a concurrent storm will have the Southeast experiencing waves of heavy rain.  Two converging fronts will cause warm, tropical air to be pulled up from the south bringing unseasonably warm temperatures and heavy rainfall over the majority of Appalachia. Severe thunderstorms and tornadoes are possible. It appears 2017 will start off the year with the vengeance that was expected–but didn’t materialize–from last year’s El Nino weather pattern.

Earlier Severe Storms

In previous weeks, western states received much needed rain, helping to alleviate concerns due to record warmth and prolonged drought. Parts of the Sierra Mountain range, under drought since December of 2011, are now buried under as much as 10 feet and have already doubled the average snow-pack for this time of year.  Similarly, the State of Colorado has already received 75% of its annual snow-pack and a staggering 400 avalanches have been recorded to date. Down in Texas, heavy rains drenched the state and at least four tornadoes were spotted late Sunday.

The Midwest, however, seems to have taken the brunt of the recent bad weather.  The ice storm pushed eastward leaving a swath of downed trees, power outages and traffic accidents in its wake. Freezing rain and ice accumulated on trees and powerlines across the heartland, causing them to collapse under the added weight. Multiple Midwest states reported power outages leaving thousands of customers without electricity.  According to the Associated Press, Oklahoma was especially hard hit with “tens of thousands of Oklahoma homes and businesses (reporting a loss of) power during Jupiter.”

severe storms

Over an Inch of Ice Accumulation Causes Widespread Power Outages.

The swift and frigid storm also made for extremely hazardous driving conditions which resulted in several road closures and numerous auto accidents.  Hundreds of injuries and sadly 7 fatalities were caused by the slippery surfaces.



Winter Storms Continue to Improve Drought Conditions

Drought conditions across California were steadily improving as we closed out 2016. This past week has further weakened the drought’s stranglehold on the state. A series of severe winter storms continue to saturate the state and, as of this week, more than 40% of the state is now considered by officials to be drought free. The severely drought-stricken areas of Southern California have diminished by 41% and the Sierra snowpack is now at 160% of normal levels.

California Drought

Drought Snapshot – Source: Los Angeles Times

Storms Fueling Drought Recovery

Since December 1, the storms have brought snow and heavy rainfall to much of the state. Northern California, especially, has seen precipitation levels that rival some of the wettest years on record.

City Rainfall (in) Since Dec 1 Average Annual Rainfall (in) % of Annual
Fresno 5.14 11.5 44.70%
Monterey 6.84 19.5 35.08%
Redding 10.56 34.61 30.51%
Sacramento 10.82 18.51 58.45%
San Francisco 7.81 23.64 33.04%
Santa Rosa 18.29 36.28 50.41%
South Lake Tahoe 14.88 52.45 28.37%


According to UC Davis water expert Jay Lund, “In terms of surface water, most of California is no longer in drought”.  Many of the state’s reservoirs are nearing capacity and now at or above historic averages.  Lake Shasta, the state’s largest reservoir, has swelled to over 80% capacity and the Bureau of Reclamation opened Shasta Dam for the first time in over 6 years. Managers at many of the state’s other reservoirs are following suit, releasing water in order to make room for future storm and mountain run-off.

Aquifers Have Not Recovered

While the state’s many reservoirs are recovering well, the groundwater aquifers could take decades to recover. Central California’s many farms have relied on groundwater to continue irrigating their farms for much of the five year drought. The result has been a depleting water table, up to fifty feet below historic levels in some areas.  For many farmers, this caused a financial burden of digging a deeper well, or many risked the well drying up entirely.

Groundwater depletion has been an ongoing problem in California’s Central Valley, even in years of normal rainfall. The extended drought has exacerbated the problem, and while these recent winter storms will help to replenish some of the groundwater resources, the water table will likely never return to historic levels.