Transcription edited for clarity. Radio edited interview aired on KRPS Monday December 13, 2021.
FRED FLETCHER-FIERRO (HOST) : It’s Morning Edition on KRPS, I’m Fred Fletcher-Fierro. Devastating tornadoes touched down in Four States late Friday night, in Arkansas, Kentucky, Tennessee and Missouri killed at least 70 people total. This past May, residents of Joplin marked the 10th anniversary of the devastating tornado that destroyed roughly one-quarter of the city on May 21, 2011, costing an estimated $2.8 billion dollars in damage. At the time the most costliest tornado in US history. Joining me this morning from the National Weather Service in Springfield Missouri is Gene Hatch. Good morning and thank you for your time.
GENE : Good morning and thank you for having me.
FRED : When you reside in the Midwest, tornados are a fact of life, but I’m sure many of us were caught off guard by the devastating tornadoes that took place on Friday in Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas and Missouri. Peak tornado season is known for being April through June, although we had a relatively quiet tornado season in the Four States this year. How common are tornadoes outside of that three month April to June period?
GENE HATCH (GUEST) : Well, for the Midwest area and especially, portions of Kansas and Missouri, and the Missouri valley really. We can see tornadoes any month of the year and we have seen tornadoes and you want to be every month of the year. You know, generally you start talking about that tornado season when we see, you know, around April through about June, is what we normally expect to see those tornadoes. But we do see tornadoes every month of the year across the region.
FRED : Interesting. And in fact, I remember throughout the year, you guys hold a tornado preparedness week. I believe, I think, I think it’s in March. No. Or do you remember when that is?
GENE : The National Weather Service normally holds a tornado preparedness week in March, to prepare for severe weather season across the region. But like you say, you can have tornadoes anytime of the year, so you should really be prepared all year long.
FRED : You know, another aspect of Friday’s is that I’ve heard reports of the distance of the tornadoes between 200 and 240 miles. Just for context for listeners, the Joplin tornado in may of 2011 was on the ground for 22 miles. I know that the investigation is ongoing to determine just how long these tornadoes were. But, is this part of a trend of longer, stronger unpredictable storms?
GENE : You know, it’s very difficult to, to look at individual events and, and start to look at the potential for trends of increased strings or increased length. The tornado that struck last Friday, that went through multiple states, impacting Mayfield, Kentucky was unusual in its length.
You’d have to go back to the Tri-state tornado, many years ago, that actually tracked about 200 miles, to get something that would be comparable. So that length of path for a tornado is very unusual
FRED : Yeah, something that comes to mind living here in Webb city. I remember the Carl junction tornado a couple of years ago now. And at the time I remember watching Doug Heady on KOAM. And he was under the impression that it was one tornado. I believe it ended up being four different tornadoes. They went through Carl junction and ended up, killing at least two people I believe up in Golden City. So it is incredibly difficult to figure out in real time what’s happening. I remember reading about the Tri-state tornado. What are some of the more recent ways that the National Weather Service investigators use to determine the severity, the length, the intensity of storms?
I’m sorry of pile all this on, but, I haven’t heard a year rating yet on the tornado that hit Kentucky. Have you heard any development on that?
GENE : The weather service and engineers are still in the process of doing damage surveys. What will happen with a tornado of this magnitude that it may be several days before we get any indication of the strength of the tornado.
However, some of the damage photos that have been coming out look comparable to the Joplin tornado in their damage intensity and just from those photos. And that’s not to say that it will end up being an EF-5 tornado.
FRED : Yeah, the photos are just incredible, especially, looking back and remembering the Joplin tornado photos. You can definitely see a resemblance of the devastation. It’s just incredible.
Finally, looking ahead to the weather forecast for at least Southwest, Missouri,this upcoming week. I use the National Weather Service, every single day. And, you know, I kind of see a mirroring of what happened last Friday in the forecast (this week) where it’s mainly sunny highs get progressively warmer each day.
And then on Wednesday, it’s mostly cloudy highs in the mid seventies and the following day, sunshine for now highs in the upper fifties, a dramatic drop in highs. Is there any indication that the Midwest or the Four State area could experience another severe storm cluster, like we had on Friday?
GENE : Well, that is something that we are definitely looking at currently,as we go through our forecast process,as we do look out to, you know, this coming week, we are looking at again, potentials maybe in some near record high temperatures across the region. For winter and again, like you say, we are expecting the potential for a cold front to move through the region to give us that, that quick cool-down as we get towards the end of this coming week. There is the potential that we could see some severe weather as we go through the middle of this week with that temperature change and that cold front as it moves through the region.
This coming weeks storms that we’re expecting, are different than what we saw last week. So not to say that we can’t get some severe weather with that, but, but it’s a different pattern at this
FRED : Yeah. You mentioned the highs were above average. I mean, here, we’re almost in the middle of December and Wednesday, you know, it could have a high of 74. You know, something like that, in the lower and mid seventies.
Is it just me or the (average) highs usually this time of year around 50 degrees. Is that about right?
GENE : That is correct. Once we start getting into middle and late December, our highs are really around that 50 degree mark, the upper forties to around 50 degrees. Average, climatologically across the region. So when you start getting temperatures in the upper sixties and seventies, this time of year, it’s unusual.
FRED : Is there anything else you’d like to add?
GENE : Even though we’re in the winter months especially across the Plains and the Ozarks region, you know, like I said before, you can always have severe weather.
So, you know, always, always be keeping an eye on things. Get the latest forecast and be prepared to take action.
FRED : Gean Hatch is a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Springfield, Missouri. I want to thank you for your time this morning.
GENE : Oh, no problem.