Tornado outbreak sequence of May 2003

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Tornado outbreak sequence of May 2003
A tornado in the middle of the fields striking a motor plant.
The MooreSoutheast Oklahoma City tornado hitting the GM motor plant on May 8.
TypeTornado outbreak, Flood event
DurationMay 3, 2003 (2003-05-03)–May 11, 2003 (2003-05-11)
Highest winds
Tornadoes
confirmed
361 tornadoes (65 significant)[note 1]
Max. rating1F4 tornado
Duration of
tornado outbreak2
7 days, 22 hours
Largest hail4.75 in (12.1 cm) in Mahaska County, Iowa
Casualties41 deaths (+9 non-tornadic deaths), 661 injuries (+52 non-tornadic injuries)
DamageUS$4.1 billion (US$5.8 billion 2019 CPI)
Areas affectedGreat Plains, Eastern United States
1Most severe tornado damage; see Fujita scale
2Time from first tornado to last tornado
Part of the Tornadoes of 2003

The tornado outbreak sequence of May 2003 was a prolonged and destructive series of tornado outbreaks that affected much of the Great Plains and Eastern United States in early May 2003. Most of the severe activity was concentrated between May 4 and May 10, which saw more tornadoes than any other week-long span in recorded history; 338 tornadoes occurred during this period, concentrated in the Ozarks and central Mississippi River Valley. Additional tornadoes were produced by the same storm systems from May 3 to May 11, producing 401 tornadoes overall, of which 65 were significant.[note 1] Six of the tornadoes were rated F4, and of these four occurred on May 4, the most prolific day of the tornado outbreak sequence; these were the outbreak's strongest tornadoes. Damage caused by the severe weather and associated flooding amounted to US$4.1 billion (US$5.8 billion in 2016), making it the costliest U.S. tornado outbreak of the 2000s. A total of 50 deaths and 713 injuries were caused by the severe weather, with a majority caused by tornadoes; the deadliest tornado was an F4 that struck Madison and Henderson counties in Tennessee, killing 11.

Overview[edit]

A map displaying a high risk for severe weather over the Ozarks with a slight risk extending throughout the Mississippi River Valley.
The Storm Prediction Center's convective outlook for May 4 highlighting the regions with the greatest likelihood of severe weather. This day proved to be the most active and deadly of the event with 81 tornadoes and 38 fatalities.[2]

During the first half of May 2003, atmospheric conditions across the Central and Southeastern United States proved exceptionally favorable for widespread severe weather. Idealized patterns for large tornado outbreaks occurred each day from May 3 to 11, resulting in a prolonged and extensive series of outbreaks. Warm, moist air flowed northward from the Gulf of Mexico across the Central United States and reached as far north as Missouri. This created an anomalously large warm sector–the airmass behind a warm front and ahead of a dry line–for thunderstorms to develop within. The unusually far-reaching nature of this airmass resulted in the greatest tornadic activity occurring outside the climatological maximum area for tornadoes in May. Atop the northward surface winds, the upper-level jet stream blew almost perpendicular, creating strong wind shear across Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Tennessee. Multiple shortwave troughs initiated tornadic events throughout the outbreak. As severe weather shifted east across the country, another trough would cross from the Pacific to the Central United States and reignite activity. The cause of these successive troughs is unknown, but they proved a key factor in the prolonged nature of the outbreak. Throughout this period, no cold fronts propagated south from Canada; the lack of these allowed the atmosphere to continually destabilize and fuel further thunderstorms.[2] The pattern finally ceased on May 11–12 with the active pattern shifting to New England the formation of a ridge over the Rocky Mountains.[3]

Throughout the nine-day outbreak, 361 tornadoes touched down across the United States. Of these, 65 reached at least F2-intensity, while 7 reached F4. The most prolific and violent day of the outbreak was May 4; 81 tornadoes touched down, of which 5 reached F4-intensity. Between May 4 and May 10, 334 tornadoes developed across 26 states, setting a record for the most tornadoes ever documented over the course of a week. At least one significant tornado was reported daily across nine consecutive days, with at least a dozen tornadoes total occurring daily over the same timeframe.[2] Due to the temporal expanse of the event, it was classified as a tornado outbreak sequence—a "continuous or near-continuous sequence of tornado outbreak days"—with only three historical events of comparable longevity and severity according to data compiled by Thomas P. Grazulis.[4] May 2003 ultimately became the most active month for tornadoes in recorded history until it was later surpassed by April 2011.[2][5] In total, the widespread severe weather event caused an estimated $4.1 billion (2003; $5.8 billion 2019 CPI-adjusted) in damage and 41 deaths alongside 642 injuries.[2][6]

Meteorological synopsis[edit]

On April 30, meteorologists at the Storm Prediction Center (SPC) noted the likelihood of a major tornado outbreak across a large area of the Central and Eastern United States for the period of May 2–6.[2] Ahead of the most active day, the SPC issued a rare high-risk outlook for severe weather across eastern Oklahoma, eastern Kansas, western Missouri, and northwestern Arkansas.[7] A total of 127 severe weather watches and 4,050 warnings (2,960 severe thunderstorm and 1,090 tornado) were issued from May 4. Of the watches, 25 were classified as Particularly Dangerous Situations, a type of watch reserved for the most life-threatening events. The issuance of such watches resulted in an average lead-time of 2 hours and 3 minutes for fatal tornadoes. Seven of the eight fatal tornadoes occurred within a high-risk outlook area, with the eighth just outside in a moderate-risk area. An average of 12 watches were issued each day; May 6, 8, and 10 saw more than 20 each. Watches were continuously in effect from 16:40 UTC on May 4 through 12:00 UTC on May 9. May 6 saw the greatest number of advisories with a record 921 warnings. The SPC and the National Weather Services offices in Kansas City, Springfield, Memphis, Paducah, and Oklahoma City received a letter of praise signed by 11 members of the United States House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology commending their high-quality service during the event. Furthermore, the SPC webpage received an average of 5.6 million views per day during the outbreak.[3]

April 30[edit]

Confirmed tornadoes by Fujita rating
FU F0 F1 F2 F3 F4 F5 Total
0 18 3 0 0 0 0 21

May 1[edit]

Confirmed tornadoes by Fujita rating
FU F0 F1 F2 F3 F4 F5 Total
0 8 4 2 0 0 0 14

May 2[edit]

Confirmed tornadoes by Fujita rating
FU F0 F1 F2 F3 F4 F5 Total
0 0 1 0 0 0 0 1

May 3[edit]

Confirmed tornadoes by Fujita rating
FU F0 F1 F2 F3 F4 F5 Total
0 11 2 1 0 0 0 14

May 4[edit]

Confirmed tornadoes by Fujita rating
FU F0 F1 F2 F3 F4 F5 Total
0 32 29 13 8 4 0 86

May 5[edit]

Confirmed tornadoes by Fujita rating
FU F0 F1 F2 F3 F4 F5 Total
0 17 7 0 1 0 0 25

May 6[edit]

Confirmed tornadoes by Fujita rating
FU F0 F1 F2 F3 F4 F5 Total
0 41 27 5 1 1 0 75

May 7[edit]

Confirmed tornadoes by Fujita rating
FU F0 F1 F2 F3 F4 F5 Total
0 16 11 4 0 0 0 31

May 8[edit]

Confirmed tornadoes by Fujita rating
FU F0 F1 F2 F3 F4 F5 Total
0 26 9 3 3 1 0 42

May 9[edit]

Confirmed tornadoes by Fujita rating
FU F0 F1 F2 F3 F4 F5 Total
0 19 12 1 1 0 0 33

May 10[edit]

Confirmed tornadoes by Fujita rating
FU F0 F1 F2 F3 F4 F5 Total
0 25 19 10 6 0 0 60

May 11[edit]

Confirmed tornadoes by Fujita rating
FU F0 F1 F2 F3 F4 F5 Total
0 2 1 0 0 0 0 3

Notable tornadoes[edit]

Confirmed tornadoes and tornado warnings from
21:00 UTC April 30–19:00 UTC May 11, 2003
Animation showing all confirmed tornadoes and their intensities during the outbreak and tornado warnings issued by the National Weather Service. Concentrations of tornadoes occurred along the Kansas–Missouri border and at the confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers.
 F0 tornado  F3 tornado
 F1 tornado  F4 tornado
 F2 tornado  Tornado warning

Kansas City metropolitan area[edit]

Northern parts of the Kansas City metropolitan area suffered heavy damage from tornadoes on May 4 in what was considered the most significant outbreak for the region since 1977.[8][9] Five tornadoes occurred in the northland suburbs of Kansas City, of which four were caused by a single supercell; the strongest of these was classified as an F4.[10][11] All flights via Kansas City International Airport were halted and passengers in the terminals were evacuated underground into tunnels for a half-hour.[9] At the height of the storms, the Kansas City Power and Light Company reported that 33,000 of its electricity customers were without power, including Providence Medical Center where 22 persons were treated for injuries.[12] Despite the severity of the tornadoes and the populations affected, Lynn Maximuk of the National Weather Service Weather Forecast Office in Pleasant Hill, Missouri credited the partnerships between the National Weather Service and local emergency and media crews with the relatively low number of casualties.[13]

The first tornado in the Kansas City area touched down in Leavenworth County, Kansas and was first noted by Fort Leavenworth officials at around 3:45 p.m. CDT. Initially, the tornado remained over country but began damaging structures after crossing the Missouri River into Platte County, Missouri near the intersection of Missouri Route 92 and North Farley Road.[11] There, sixteen homes experienced minor damage, with the tornado producing a maximum of F1 damage over its 3 mi (4.8 km)-long and 50 yd (46 m)-wide track.[14][15] North of Route 92, major damage to two barns and nearby damage to trees and fences was assessed by survey crews to have been caused by downburst winds from the parent thunderstorm.[11]

A succession of four tornadoes from the same thunderstorm in Kansas City area began with the touchdown of an F2 tornado in southern Leavenworth County at approximately 3:54 pm. CDT. The 6 mi (9.7 km)-long damage path extended from northwest of Linwood, Kansas to the south of Basehor, Kansas, with the worst damage occurring to homes near the intersection of 166th Street and Kansas Road.[11] Two people were injured by the tornado.[16] The second tornado—the strongest of the Kansas City tornadoes—began north-northwest of the Kansas Speedway at 3:54 pm. CDT in Wyandotte County, Kansas, initially producing F0–F1 damage. However, the tornado quickly grew in size and intensity, causing F3 damage to two homes south of Parallel Parkway near Interstate 435 and expanding to a width of over 500 yd (460 m). Low-end F4 damage was observed near the intersection of 91st Street and Leavenworth Road; one fatality occurred nearby within a region of F2–F3 damage. The tornado continued into the northeastern portions of Wyandotte County where the twister produced a second region of low-end F4 damage near 79th Street and Cernech Road. Four 150 ft (46 m)-tall metal power poles built to withstand winds in excess of 200 mph (320 km/h) were damaged there. The tornado remained damaging but weakened over the remainder of its path, causing F1–F2 damage along the Missouri River across both Wyandotte County and Platte County in Missouri. The tornado crossed into Platte County near Riverside and Parkville, Missouri at around 4:30 p.m. where it caused damage over a narrower expanse to commercial areas. F1-rated damage was observed after the tornado crossed Interstate 635 before lifting east of the highway at 4:42 pm. CDT in Clay County, Missouri.[11] Overall, the F4 tornado killed two people and injured another thirty; one woman succumbed to her injuries seven months later. Communities in its path incurred a $47.5 million damage toll to property, of which $32 million occurred in Wyandotte County and $15.5 million occurred in Platte County. A total of 83 buildings were destroyed and another 582 sustained at least some degree of damage.[17][18]

Damages wrought by the tornado in Gladstone, Missouri

A new circulation developed northeast of the first F4 tornado and developed into another F4 tornado that impacted the Gladstone, Missouri area between 4:45–5:00 pm. CDT. Initial damage was wrought to tree and roofs near Shady Lane and Antioch Road, with the severity rated F1. Intensification was quick thereafter, with marginal F4 damage noted in the Carriage Hills subdivision.[11] Roofs and windows were damaged and business signage were destroyed.[12] The tornado continued towards the northeast, causing F1–F3-rated damage before dissipating near Interstate 435;[11] the total damage toll amounted to $31 million and 13 people were injured.[19] The final tornado in the Kansas City region on May 4 impacted the Liberty, Missouri area and was the costliest of those in the metropolitan area. Rated F2, the tornado caused substantial damage at William Jewell College and at locales near downtown Liberty before lifting around 5:15 pm. CDT over rural areas of Clay County.[11] The most severe damage covered a swath that included eastern parts of the college campus and areas along Excelsior Springs Road,[20] with the overall damage cost totaling $60 million.[21]

Pierce City–Battlefield, Missouri[edit]

In Pierce City, Missouri, two people were killed following the collapse of a National Guard Armory.[22] One person was killed and widespread damage occurred near the Clever and Billings communities of Christian County, Missouri.[23] Significant damage occurred to infrastructure in Battlefield, Missouri, including damage to 400–500 homes. The city's fire station collapsed due to the tornado.[24] Downed power lines forced the closure of roads leading to Republic, Missouri.[22]

Stockton, Missouri[edit]

Grayscale satellite image of a large cluster of clouds arranged in a semi-coherent line from Texas northeastward to Wisconsin
Storms over the Ozarks and Mississippi Valley on May 4 at 4:40 pm. CST (22:40 UTC)

At 5:31 pm. CDT (22:31 UTC), a tornado began near Liberal, Missouri.[25] As it moved northeast across Barton County, it uprooted numerous trees and produced F1 damage to outbuildings. The tornado entered Cedar County and progressed north of Jericho Springs where it destroyed a mobile home consistent with F2 intensity. The tornado remained over generally rural areas and caused solely tree and power line damage prior to reaching the intersection of Highway Z and County Road 825. There, a well-built frame home and two nearby outbuildings were completely destroyed, with their debris scattered across the adjacent roadway. Damage at this location warranted an F3 rating. Continuing northeast, the storm grew to between 0.5–0.75 mi (0.80–1.21 km) wide and entered downtown Stockton.[26] In the city, 350 structures were demolished while an additional 650 received major damage.[27] Numerous vehicles were flipped and tossed, including two cars from a local dealership which were blown approximately one block to the northeast of their original location. Damage was consistent with an upper-end F3 here.[26] Three people died in Stockton: one man died after being struck by flying debris after his frame house was destroyed, one man died after being struck by flying debris after leaving his home during the tornado's approach, and one man died after refusing to seek shelter in his basement. Thirty-seven others were injured.[27]

Franklin, Kansas[edit]

Tornado near Franklin

A large tornado touched down in Neosho County, Kansas at 4:32 pm on May 4. The tornado was initially about 250 yards (230 m) wide and produced F2 damage as it crossed into Crawford County. Aerial damage surveys indicate an increase in width and intensification as the tornado approached the community of Ringo (5 miles (8 km) east of Girard), in Crawford County. Dramatic scouring of the ground was observed, homes were swept from their foundations, and heavy objects such as vehicles were tossed long distances (over 100 yards (90 m)). The NWS described the damage in this portion of the track as "high-end F4", though it is speculated that they tornado could have reached F5 intensity in this area. As it passed Ringo and entered the unincorporated town of Franklin (5 miles (8 km) north of Frontenac), the path reached over 12 mile (0.8 km) wide at points. Major devastation occurred in Franklin, as numerous buildings and homes were demolished, with some swept away. and Three people were killed in town, and 20 others were injured. The tornado continued producing "high end F4" damage to homes as it passed the town of Mulberry, where a train was derailed from the winds of the storm, and crossed into Barton County, Missouri. In Missouri, the twister demolished several farm houses, killing an 88-year-old man. Some of the homes were swept completely away. Its path began to narrow several miles into Missouri; video and eyewitness accounts suggest that the tornado was "roping out" at this point. It finally lifted to the north of Liberal, Missouri after having traveled for approximately 35 miles (56 km). Almost immediately after the Franklin tornado lifted, a second large tornado was reported to have touched down on the east side of Liberal. The Franklin tornado was covered on an episode of The Weather Channel's Storm Stories, and was described by meteorologist Jim Cantore as "one of the most violent tornadoes ever caught on film- a twister that would shred southeast Kansas".[citation needed]

Jackson, Tennessee[edit]

Fourteen people were killed as a result of either tornadoes or strong thunderstorm winds in Madison County, Tennessee, mostly in the rural community of Denmark in the southwestern part of the county. A destructive tornado struck downtown Jackson, severely damaging downtown landmarks. Twenty-seven thousand energy customers under the Jackson Energy Authority were without power due to the storms.[28]

Oklahoma City, Oklahoma[edit]

Radar shot of the Moore/Oklahoma City supercell at its peak intensity in southeastern OKC

Four years after an F5 tornado caused incredible damage across much of the Oklahoma City metropolitan area during the 1999 Oklahoma tornado outbreak, another strong tornado affected the area. The storm responsible for the tornado developed across Grady County during the mid-afternoon hours and produced a weak tornado near Newcastle and west of Moore. Just after 5:00 pm, a new tornado touched down on the west side of Moore west of Interstate 35 and moved east northeast across the city; the tornado proceeded to cause damage across southeastern sections of Oklahoma City, including Tinker Air Force Base near Interstate 40, and also near Midwest City and Choctaw.[29] Despite extensive damage along the path, no fatalities were caused by the tornado, although dozens of injuries were reported across Cleveland and Oklahoma Counties.

Extensive damage was widespread across the southeastern Oklahoma City metro area

Within Moore city-limits, the peak damage caused near the center of the tornado was mostly rated as F2, although a few isolated locations received F3-rated damage; F3 damage in Moore was observed near 12th Street where several businesses, two hotels, an office building, a church, several restaurants, a child center and a Headstart Program building were either severely damaged or destroyed. The tornado also damaged numerous homes in the Highland Park subdivision which was mostly destroyed by the F5 tornado which passed just a few blocks north of the May 8, 2003, tornado. Other homes on the north side of the city also sustained significant damage before the tornado crossed the Cleveland-Oklahoma county line.[29]

In the Oklahoma City area, the General Motors Oklahoma City Assembly sustained major damage as did as a manufacturing plant near Interstate 240 where F4 damage was observed. Several other businesses were either damaged or destroyed. At Tinker Air Force Base, a storage bunker and several fences were damaged. Several subdivisions in eastern Oklahoma City, Choctaw and Midwest City were also affected by the tornado with several homes sustaining significant damage.[29]

Other regions[edit]

Several cities in the Ozarks region were impacted by tornadoes on the evening of May 4.[22] More than 100 buildings in Crawford County, Missouri were damaged.[12]

Non-tornadic impacts[edit]

Southeastern United States[edit]

Aerial view of flooded businesses along a thoroughfare.
Flooding in Chattanooga, Tennessee along the banks of South Chickamauga Creek

Accompanying the record period of tornadic activity was a significant flood event that impacted parts of the Southeastern United States. A stagnation of the typical eastward movement of storm systems across the United States resulted in the stalling of a warm front over Tennessee, keeping the region in a moist air mass with dew point temperatures above 60 °F (16 °C)—characteristic of highly moisture-laden air.[30] The floods lasted for eight days, affecting a 272,100 km2 (105,100 sq mi) area and displacing 2,000 people.[31]

Rains in southeastern Tennessee beginning on April 30 saturated surfaces and elevated river levels, amplifying a period of heavy precipitation beginning on May 5 that featured repeated passages of thunderstorms over the same areas.[32] The positioning of a high pressure area over the western Atlantic maintained a southerly wind throughout the region, producing a prolonged flow of moisture from the Gulf of Mexico.[30] During the following five days, over 9 in (230 mm) of rain would fall across the watersheds of the Little Tennessee and Hiwassee rivers, including more than 12 in (300 mm) of rainfall reported over a 35-hour span in McMinn County. The nearby South Chickamauga Creek in Chattanooga reached a record crest of 29.32 ft (8.94 m) on May 8. The resulting damage in the Chattanooga area from the swollen tributaries was evaluated at $20 million. The Tennessee River at Chattanooga reached a stage of 36.1 ft (11.0 m), within a foot of the record high set in February 1973; riverside flooding prompted the evacuation or rescue of hundreds of individuals from adjacent counties and along its tributaries.[32] Similar impacts were felt in West and Middle Tennessee, necessitating a 20-county presidential disaster declaration due the floods, tornadoes, and associated severe weather. Flooding along Saunders Fork Creek in Cannon County resulted in the deaths of three people in two vehicles.[33] Another fatality occurred after a driver and their vehicle went airborne in crossing a washed out section of road in Wayne County; a total of 18 roads and bridges were washed out by the flooding in the county. The floods in Wayne County also inundated 100 homes, resulting in the rescue of 50 people.[34]

Flood impacts extended southward from Tennessee. Drawing moisture from the moist tropical air mass, thunderstorms associated with the severe weather outbreak on May 7 produced torrential precipitation over Alabama. Northern and northeastern areas of the Greater Birmingham area of Alabama experienced up to 11 in (280 mm) of rainfall from several storms over the course of a few hours on May 7, resulting in historic flooding.[35] Radar estimates suggested that as much as 5–8 in (130–200 mm) fell in some locations in one hour. Throughout Jefferson County—which includes Birmingham—at least 120 thoroughfares were blocked by floodwaters. All roadways in Leeds and Brookside were flooded. Many schools and homes were also inundated, resulting in several rescues and evacuations. Total property damage in the county alone reached $1 billion.[36] Rivers swelled downstream from the accumulated rainfall, impacting areas not directly affected by the storms. An elevated Tallapoosa River nearly isolated Wadley, Alabama, with Alabama State Route 22 connecting Wadley to points east becoming fully submerged.[35] Across Central Alabama, the Red Cross reported damage to more than 700 homes.[37] Due in part to the heavy rains between May 4–8, May 2003 was the wettest month for Huntsville since 1983.[38]

A map of rainfall totals across the United States.
Heavy rainfall on May 6 straddled the southern Tennessee border, impacting much of the Tennessee River basin.

The same storms produced heavy rainfall across the northern and central portions of Georgia. With soils saturated from prior rains, the prolonged precipitation period produced seasonally anomalous runoff that flowed into creeks and rivers, resulting in rapid rises of streams and associated rivers, including Chickamauga Creek, Conasauga River, Chattahoochee River, Flint River, and Sweetwater Creek. Near West Point, the Chattahoochee River rose to 23.2 ft (7.1 m), reaching its highest levels since 1961.[39] The flooding washed out roads, damaged at least 200 residential buildings, and inundated numerous businesses. Two people were killed in the state as a result of the floods overtaking their vehicles.[40][41] Much of Georgia was also impacted earlier by widespread severe weather on May 2, with large hail or wind damage reported in most counties beginning in the afternoon hours. The primary impacts transitioned from hail to strong downbursts after sunset as what ultimately became a singular line of storms tracked southward. The largest hail of the day—approximately the size of baseballs—occurred near Trion in Chattooga County.[42]

Severe weather swept across South Carolina on May 6, concentrated in two waves of thunderstorms organized in a mesoscale convective system.[43][44] The complex originated over northern Georgia and persisted within an unstable airmass.[44] Storm activity resulted in golf-ball-sized hail in four counties while strong winds caused some scattered tree and building damage.[43] A macroburst in McCormick County destroyed a mobile home and damaged several others due to falling trees, resulting in $80,000 in damage.[45] On May 9, storms in North Carolina near the state border with Virginia produced large hail and strong winds, cutting power to 1,900 customers of Progress Energy Inc.[46] Hail as large as 4.25 in (108 mm) in diameter was documented in Northampton County, damaging vehicles and homes.[47]

A pair of damaging hailstorms impacted the Paducah, Kentucky area on May 4. The first took a path from near Cairo, Illinois to Lake Barkley in Kentucky and dropped hail as large as 2.75 in (70 mm) in diameter near Calvert City, Kentucky, breaking windshields and denting vehicles.[48] Minor damage was inflicted to the roofs of hundreds of homes.[49] One person was injured in Paducah by the hailstorm; this was the first reported hail-related injury in the warning area of National Weather Service Paducah, Kentucky since 1994.[50] Causing tens of millions of dollars in damage, the hailstorm was one of the most destructive in far western Kentucky's history; the damage toll included $10 million in damage for Marshall County, Kentucky and $20 million in damage in nearby Massac County, Illinois.[49] The second storm produced hail from Pope County, Illinois to McLean County, Kentucky. The storms were complemented by other hailstorms, albeit less significant, across the region.[48] Thunderstorms in the Louisville area cut power to 24,000 homes and businesses.[51] On May 5, heavy rains impacted areas of northeastern Kentucky, resulting in flooding along the banks of Tygarts Creek and the Little Sandy River; the floods caused $1.3 million in damage.[52]

In addition to an F0 tornado-producing storm in the Northern Virginia, a second severe thunderstorm producing strong winds caused damage in the Virginian suburbs of Washington, D.C. on May 7, downing power lines and trees in Fairfax County and near Falls Church. A microburst with winds of up to 70 mph (110 km/h) downed trees in eastern Warrenton.[53] The same storms persisted into southern Maryland, downing trees in the La Plata area and St. Mary's County.[54] On May 8, a fast-moving thunderstorm caused a power outage affecting 4,100 people in Gloucester County, Virginia, felling trees and downing power lines.[55] Several damaging severe thunderstorms tracked across Virginia on the following day, producing winds as high as 92 mph (148 km/h) as measured in Centenary. In addition to damage to infrastructure, one person was killed by a fallen tree in Arvonia.[56] In West Virginia, storms along and south of a warm front produced severe weather and flooding rains, particularly in the Little Kanawha River watershed. Overflowed banks resulted in inundation in some areas of Webster, Braxton, and Randolph counties, resulting in over $1 million in damage.[57] Strong thunderstorm winds in Greenbrier County felled trees and power lines, resulting in one injury.[58]

Midwestern United States[edit]

Satellite image of an expansive cloud system over North America characterized by a cyclone near the center of the image and a line of clouds emanating downwards from the cyclone.
A strong cold front associated with a low-pressure area near the Great Lakes produced damaging winds across the Midwest on May 11

Large hail and strong winds were reported across south-central Nebraska on May 4, including gusts as strong as 80 mph (130 km/h) north of Pauline. Hailstorms in the state that day collectively caused about $1.3 million in damage, including the loss of inventory at two car dealerships in the Holdrege area.[59] Softball-sized hail damaged cars and homes near Offutt Air Force Base.[51] Kansas was also impacted by hail and strong winds, resulting in downed power lines.[60] Four days later, 38 freight cars on a BNSF Railway in Chase County, Kansas were derailed by thunderstorm winds, including one car filled with sulfur dioxide. The chemical release prompted the evacuation of about 250 residents and six firemen and law enforcement personnel were treated for respiratory ailments caused by the compound.[61]

Exacerbating the significant tornado outbreak, storms along the dry line in Missouri also produced widespread hail on May 4, peaking at 3.50 in (89 mm) near Gladstone.[62] Another bout of storms two days later caused flooding in northern Jefferson County, submerging roads and resulting in one death.[63] De Soto was particularly hard hit, with a school severely damaged by straight-line winds alongside downed trees and power lines.[64][65] Wind gusts in the De Soto storm were estimated to have been near 100 mph (160 km/h), destroying 6 single-family homes and inflicting major damage to 27.[66] Flooding was also reported in Phelps County and washed out roads in Laclede County, in addition to producing small hail and minor damage to infrastructure.[67][68] More severe storms struck the state two days later;[69] in Bates County, hail as large as 4 in (100 mm) damaged 1,100 homes and 750 cars, resulting in a $6.75 million damage toll.[70] A wind gust of 104 mph (167 km/h) was measured at Whiteman Air Force Base,[71] though the site did not sustain any damage.[72] Wind gusts estimated at around 85 mph (137 km/h) produced a swath of damage in the Hallsville and Centralia areas, damaging four mobile homes and injuring one person.[73] One person was killed on May 9 after attempting to traverse a low-water crossing in Monroe County.[74] The following day, severe storms in the St. Louis area disrupted power to 10,000 electricity customers and caused flashed flooding in the region.[75]

The SPC predicted the potential for severe winds for a large portion of the Ohio River Valley for the evening of May 10 and early morning hours of May 11

The repeated storm activity brought frequent thunderstorms over Iowa, causing intermittent periods of heavy rainfall and flooding. The heaviest rainfall occurred on May 4, when Des Moines set a rainfall record for the day with 2.73 in (69 mm) being reported. Some roads were flooded in the city's metropolitan area with flash flooding occurring in some counties, though the precipitation was overall beneficial for the state's agricultural interests and water supplies.[76] The storms on May 4 also produced scattered hail with sizes generally between 0.25–1 in (6.4–25.4 mm) across the state.[77] Behind one line of storms, the development of a low-pressure area in their wake produced a swath of 50 mph (80 km/h) winds across eastern Iowa and northern Illinois, doing at least $2 million in damage.[78] A significant hail event took place in eastern Iowa on May 8, additionally affecting northern Missouri and northern Illinois. A car dealership in Fort Madison, Iowa reported damage to 400 cars in the city's largest hail event since 1993. Three schools and a golf course were heavily damaged on the south side of Burlington, Iowa;[79] classes were cancelled at those schools following rainwater intrusion via holes created by hail.[80] The hail caused $38 million in damage across eastern Iowa and $12 million in damage across northwestern Illinois.[79][81] Flash flooding that same day in Jersey County, Illinois resulted in one fatality.[82] Late on May 9, a cluster of thunderstorms produced a gravity wave that resulted in a damaging and narrow band of strong winds that downed trees and power lines, causing a power outage that affected 2,000 people primarily in Freeport, Illinois.[83] Additional storms produced similar impacts in northeastern Illinois on May 11,[84][85] leaving 30,000 people without power.[86]

On May 11, the passage of a strong cold front caused widespread wind damage across northern Ohio. Several weather stations recorded gusts in excess of 40 mph (64 km/h), resulting in scattered power outages and downed trees and utility poles throughout the region.[87] Similar effects were felt in Indiana, Michigan, and Wisconsin as a result of the frontal passage;[32] in Indiana, 12,000 households were without power during the strongest winds.[32] Several roads were closed due to vehicle accidents or obstructing debris.[88] Some overpasses in Allen Park, Michigan were flooded after a fallen light pole cut power to a storm pump station. Strong winds also indirectly caused the leakage of hydrochloric acid from a plant in Ypsilanti, Michigan after roofing knocked loosed by the wind broke a distribution pipe.[89]

South-Central Plains[edit]

Throughout the severe weather outbreak, the National Climatic Data Center documented 249 hail events and 42 thunderstorm winds in the state of Oklahoma.[90] Eastern Oklahoma was impacted by tornadoes and strong thunderstorms on May 4. Strong winds reportedly tumbled four to six rail cars near Alderson and destroyed two mobile homes 1 mi (1.6 km) north of Fairland. Blown-down trees were documented across several counties as a result of the strong winds. Choteau, Jay, and Grove sustained the brunt of power outages that affected 1,500 energy customers.[91] At Grand Lake, several boat docks were damaged and between 150–200 trees were blown down by winds estimated at around 80 mph (130 km/h), resulting in $100,000 in damage.[92][93] The storms in central Oklahoma on May 8 cut power to 37,000 homes and businesses according to Oklahoma Gas & Electric, including half of Pawhuska, Oklahoma.[94]

Aftermath[edit]

FEMA Disaster Declarations
ID State Declared Aid approved Notes
DR-1462 Kansas May 5 $8.67 million [95]
DR-1463 Missouri May 5 $28.3 million [96]
DR-1464 Tennessee May 8 $61 million [97]
DR-1465 Oklahoma May 10 $6.67 million [98]
DR-1466 Alabama May 12 $62.6 million [99]
DR-1469 Illinois May 15 $1.64 million [100]
DR-1470 Mississippi May 23 $740,552 [101]
Photograph of a crowd of adults and children at a school gymnasium. George W. Bush is at the center of the image.
President George W. Bush visiting Pierce City, Missouri following the tornado outbreak

In the aftermath of the May 4 tornadoes, Missouri governor Bob Holden petitioned the federal government to declare a federal disaster for 39 counties while Kansas governor Kathleen Sebelius issued disaster or emergency declarations for several counties—Cherokee, Crawford, Labette, Leavenworth, Neosho, and Wyandotte;[9][102] U.S. President George W. Bush later issued federal disaster declarations for these states, authorizing the allocation of federal disaster funds through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).[103][104] FEMA director Michael D. Brown designated Michael J. Hall as the coordinator for federal relief efforts in response to the tornadoes.[104]

Visiting the Northmoor, Missouri, Holden remarked that the damage was "the worst I've seen from a tornado in several years,"[12] later noting in during his visit of Pierce City that the May 4 storms were "the most devastating series of tornadoes we've ever had in the state of Missouri."[105] Emergency shelters were opened in Madison County, Tennessee as the county largely lost access to electricity and water following a May 4 tornado.[28] The American Red Cross of Central Oklahoma sent relief crews and emergency response trucks to Springfield, Missouri to deliver food and supplies. The Oklahoma City chapter of Feed the Children also dispatched supplies to Kansas City, Missouri.[106] The 203rd Engineer Battalion of the Missouri Army National Guard bound for deployment in the Iraq War aided relief efforts in Pierce City, Missouri.[107]

In 2004, The Storm Prediction Center and five National Weather Service Weather Forecast Offices were awarded the Department of Commerce Gold Medal—the highest award issued by the department—for "providing life-saving services during a record outbreak of tornadoes during the period of May 4–6, 2003."[108]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ a b A significant tornado is one that is rated F2 or higher on the Fujita scale.[1]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Thompson, Richard L.; Smith, Bryan T.; Grams, Jeremy S.; Dean, Andrew R.; Broyles, Chris (October 2012). "Convective Modes for Significant Severe Thunderstorms in the Contiguous United States. Part II: Supercell and QLCS Tornado Environments" (PDF). Weather and Forecasting. American Meteorological Society. 27 (5): 1136–1154. Bibcode:2012WtFor..27.1136T. doi:10.1175/WAF-D-11-00116.1. Retrieved May 15, 2019.
  2. ^ a b c d e f Hamill, Thomas M.; Schneider, Russell S.; Brooks, Harold E.; Forbes, Gregory S.; Bluestein, Howard B.; Steinberg, Michael; Meléndez, Daniel; Dole, Randall M. (April 2005). "The May 2003 Extended Tornado Outbreak". Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society. American Meteorological Society. 86 (4): 531–542. Bibcode:2005BAMS...86..531H. doi:10.1175/BAMS-86-4-531.
  3. ^ a b Record Tornado Outbreaks of May 4–10, 2003 (PDF) (Report). Service Assessment. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. December 2003. Retrieved May 27, 2019.
  4. ^ Schneider, Russell S.; Brooks, Harodl E.; Schaefer, Joseph T. Tornado Outbreak Sequences: Historic Events and Climatology (1875–2003) (PDF). 22nd Conference on Severe Local Storms. Norman, Oklahoma: Storm Prediction Center. Retrieved June 5, 2019.
  5. ^ National Climatic Data Center (January 2012). State of the Climate: Tornadoes for Annual 2011. Climate Monitoring (Report). State of the Climate. National Centers for Environmental Information. Retrieved May 16, 2019.
  6. ^ National Climatic Data Center (2019). "Weather and Climate Billion-Dollar Disasters to affect the U.S. in 2003 (CPI-Adjusted)". Billion-Dollar Weather and Climate Disasters: Table of Events. National Centers for Environmental Information. Retrieved May 16, 2019.
  7. ^ Dial (May 4, 2003). May- 4-2003 2000 UTC Day 1 Convective Outlook (Report). Storm Prediction Center. Retrieved May 21, 2003.
  8. ^ National Weather Service Kansas City/Pleasant Hill, Missouri. Kansas Event Report: F2 Tornado (Report). Pleasant Hill, Missouri: National Centers for Envrionmental Information. Retrieved June 5, 2019.
  9. ^ a b c Scott, David (May 5, 2003). "At least 22 killed in region's twisters". Springfield News-Leader. Springfield, Missouri. Associated Press. p. 5A. Retrieved June 5, 2019 – via Newspapers.com. open access
  10. ^ National Weather Service Kansas City, Missouri. Missouri Event Report: F4 Tornado (Report). Kansas City, Missouri: National Centers for Envrionmental Information. Retrieved June 5, 2019.
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  13. ^ Hudson, Michael J. (May 7, 2003). "National Weather Service Assigns Fujita Damage Ratings to May 4th Tornadoes in the Kansas City Metropolitan Area" (Press release). Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. Retrieved June 5, 2019.
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External links[edit]

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