Deadly “Quad-State Tornado” may become longest in history

Weather

Heavy damage is seen in downtown Mayfield, Kentucky, after a tornado swept through the area. Radar data indicates that a single tornado may have tracked more than 250 miles from Arkansas into Kentucky. (Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images)

(KXAN) — Overnight Friday, severe storms erupted along a strong cold front moving across the middle of the country. More than 30 reports of tornadoes stretch from Arkansas to Illinois and Mississippi to Kentucky, along with nearly 275 reports of severe wind and hail.

One of the supercells that formed along the cold front spawned a tornado that may set the record for the longest continuous tornado in American history. The “Quad-State Tornado”, as it is being called, is the first tornado to move across four states in recorded history. The storm formed just north of Little Rock, Arkansas, moved northeast and caused damage in Missouri, Tennessee and Kentucky, a nearly 300 mile trek.

The National Weather Service will be out conducting surveys this weekend to determine if the tornado was continuously on the ground, or if it was a series of multiple tornadoes on the ground at different times. If confirmed as a continuous tornado, it will set the record for the longest track for a single tornado.

The current record is the “Tri-State Tornado” of 1925. This tornado ravaged an area from Missouri, Illinois and Indiana – a trek of 219 miles.

In addition to determining the distance the tornado traveled, the NWS will also determine the strength of it, and issue it’s EF (Enhanced Fujita) rating.

While we wait on the official EF rating, there are some indications from the radar scans at the time of the tornado that suggest the different time spans of the tornado were in the strong and violent categories (EF3+).

One of these indications is from surface-base radar that showed debris being lofted into the air from near the Mayfield, KY part of the tornado 37,000 feet in the air. This is the altitude that commercial jets fly. And an eerie precursor to how strong the winds were with the associated tornado.

The National Weather Service will issue a tornado warning whenever there is a radar-indicated tornado or whenever there is visual confirmation of a tornado on the ground. But on very rare occasions, an enhanced version of a tornado warning – a tornado emergency – will be issued. These are only issued when a tornado is heading towards a densely populated area where damages could be widespread.

There were at least eight tornado emergencies issued with this outbreak.

According to NBC News, since 1950, there have only been 19 F/EF4 tornadoes in the U.S. during the last month of the year and only 2 F/EF5 tornadoes. The last EF4 tornado to strike the U.S. during the month of December was during the Christmas Outbreak of December 2015. The last EF5 tornado to strike the U.S. during the month of December was in 1957.

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