Tornado outbreak of March 3, 2019

Tornado outbreak of March 3, 2019
March 3, 2019 tornado outbreak warnings and reports.png
Tornado warnings and Storm Prediction Center tornado reports on March 3 superimposed on a Suomi NPP infrared satellite picture taken at 18:50 UTC
TypeTornado outbreak
FormedMarch 3, 2019 (2019-03-03)
DissipatedMarch 3, 2019 (2019-03-03)
Tornadoes confirmed41
Max rating1EF4 tornado
Duration of tornado outbreak26 hours, 30 minutes
Highest winds
Largest hail2 in (5.1 cm) diameter near Elberta, Georgia
Casualties23 deaths, 103 injuries
Areas affectedSoutheastern United States, particularly Alabama and Georgia and the Florida Panhandle
1Most severe tornado damage; see Enhanced Fujita scale

2Time from first tornado to last tornado

Part of the Tornadoes of 2019

The tornado outbreak of March 3, 2019 was a significant severe weather event that affected the Southeastern United States. Over the course of 6 hours, a total of 41 tornadoes touched down across portions of Alabama, Georgia, Florida, and South Carolina. The strongest of these was an EF4 tornado that devastated rural communities from Beauregard, Alabama through Smiths Station, Alabama to Talbotton, Georgia, killing 23 people and injuring at least 100 others. Its death toll represented more than twice the number of tornado deaths in the United States in 2018, and it was the deadliest single tornado in the country since the 2013 Moore EF5 tornado. An EF3 tornado destroyed residences to the east of Tallahassee in Leon County, Florida, and was only the second tornado of that strength in the county since 1945. Several other strong tornadoes occurred across the region throughout the evening of March 3 and caused significant damage. A large number of EF0 and EF1 tornadoes also touched down.

Meteorological synopsis

On February 28, the Storm Prediction Center (SPC) issued a day four risk for severe thunderstorms across a broad region of the Southeast United States stretching from northern Louisiana through northwestern Georgia.[1] A broad slight risk was introduced the following day,[2] and a more narrow enhanced risk was raised across portions of southeastern Alabama and southwestern Georgia later on March 2 where the threat for tornadoes, some potentially strong, appeared most likely.[3]

GOES-16 satellite animation showing the Lee County, Alabama tornado

The severe weather prediction for March 3 came to fruition that morning as a broad mid-level cyclone in the northern jet stream pushed eastward over northern Ontario and James Bay. A series of shortwave troughs rotated around the southern semicircle of this low-pressure system, with an especially well-defined shortwave progressing from the South Central United States eastward across the Appalachian Mountains and into the Atlantic Ocean. This feature led to the formation of a surface low over northern Mississippi and Alabama, aiding in the northern transport of rich and deep moisture originating from the Gulf of Mexico. Strong southwesterly low-level winds coupled with strong forcing for ascent along a trailing cold front led to the formation of a squall line stretching from the Carolinas down into portions of the Deep South. Ahead of this line, the combination of mid-level Convective Available Potential Energy of 500–1,200 J/kg, a low-level jet of 50–70 kn, and effective storm-relative helicity of 250–400 J/kg resulted in a highly unstable atmosphere that was conducive to the formation of strong tornadoes. The lack of strong convective inhibition, coupled with weak forcing, favored the formation of numerous discrete supercell thunderstorms across the Florida Panhandle, southeastern Alabama, much of central Georgia, and into South Carolina.[4] Throughout the afternoon, numerous supercell thunderstorms that formed ahead of the squall line produced several significant and damaging tornadoes, including the violent EF4 that struck Beauregard, Alabama. As the squall line moved eastward, embedded circulations and semi-discrete structures within the line produced additional strong tornadoes before tornadic activity waned with eastward progression overnight.[5]