The 20th Anniversary of the Jarrell Tornado

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Pennsylvania
#1
Twenty years ago on this day, one of the most violent tornadoes in modern history devastated the small town of Jarrell, Texas. Most people on this forum are already familiar with the Jarrell F5, of course, but it's worth revisiting. I've got a blog post on the event that contains a recap and a bunch of photos, and EWX also has a summary page on the event, as does FWD. I was also recently contacted by the Communications Manager for Cedar Park - which was also struck during this event - and she shared a video that the city created to commemorate the outbreak and the people who were lost. You can find the video here.

There are many things that stand out about the Jarrell tornado, but I think the most striking - and tragic - thing to me is that so many people did exactly the right things and still lost their lives. In fact, a number of people were killed precisely because they did the right thing. They rushed home, got inside and found the innermost rooms just like everyone is taught, yet it didn't matter. Sometimes there just isn't anything you can do against the power of nature.

ETA - I'm not sure where I put them, but I've also got about 60 photos from the post-storm survey conducted by the Texas Tech Wind Science & Engineering team. I used a few of them in my blog post, but if anyone is interested in seeing the others, I can go find them and post them in an album.
 
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28
Location
Pennsylvania
#3
So, the parent supercell that eventually produced the Jarrell tornado formed right along a boundary, likely driven by a series of gravity waves that were coming in from a collapsing thunderstorm complex well to the northeast. This combination of factors, along with absolutely ridiculous instability, caused the supercell to sort of propagate along the boundary in the direction of the gravity waves (roughly southwest) rather than moving as you'd expect. It's a very odd and fluky series of events, but you see it happen occasionally under similar conditions, especially in central Texas.

You can see this play out pretty clearly in the visible imagery. Here I've marked the cold front (blue line), dryline (yellow line) and propagating gravity waves (orange lines). The supercell explodes basically as soon as the gravity waves begin to intersect the boundary, and then the whole thing just sort of "unzips." I included a bit more detail in my blog post if you're interested.

 
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10
Location
SW GA
#4
Twenty years ago on this day, one of the most violent tornadoes in modern history devastated the small town of Jarrell, Texas. Most people on this forum are already familiar with the Jarrell F5, of course, but it's worth revisiting. I've got a blog post on the event that contains a recap and a bunch of photos, and EWX also has a summary page on the event, as does FWD. I was also recently contacted by the Communications Manager for Cedar Park - which was also struck during this event - and she shared a video that the city created to commemorate the outbreak and the people who were lost. You can find the video here.

There are many things that stand out about the Jarrell tornado, but I think the most striking - and tragic - thing to me is that so many people did exactly the right things and still lost their lives. In fact, a number of people were killed precisely because they did the right thing. They rushed home, got inside and found the innermost rooms just like everyone is taught, yet it didn't matter. Sometimes there just isn't anything you can do against the power of nature.

ETA - I'm not sure where I put them, but I've also got about 60 photos from the post-storm survey conducted by the Texas Tech Wind Science & Engineering team. I used a few of them in my blog post, but if anyone is interested in seeing the others, I can go find them and post them in an album.
Where can we find the blog post?
 

Lori

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#8
Plus this tornado was such a slow mover!! I remember one of the survivors (and her family) took a direct hit BUT they were totally underground, it was still very daunting hearing the tornado as it seemed to sit there over them, they then became worried of drowning due to the deluge of rain flowing....I can't imagine being in the same vicinity of that monster and it not ending in seconds as you usually hear people state that survive a tornado...I don't think there's been such a slow mover since then, has there??

This is one of the tornadoes that fascinates me, I appreciate all the data and information you shared!!
 
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Location
Pennsylvania
#9
Yeah, it was definitely an abnormally slow mover, made even worse by the fact that it seemed to have slowed down just as it reached Double Creek. It isn't all that unusual to see such a slow-moving tornado in parts of the plains, but of course it's very unusual to see one of such intensity. One recent example that comes to mind is the 5/28/13 Bennington, KS wedge, which traveled in a looping path so slowly that it damn near stood stationary for the better part of an hour. IIRC, some locations likely experienced >100 mph winds for 45+ minutes, and there were a few places along the path where the tornado almost stopped altogether.

Jarrell was far more destructive in part because it was just an incredibly intense tornado, but also probably in part because it had scoured up so much dirt and dust that it created a sandblasting sort of effect. I recall reading a study a while back that suggested a tornado's destructive potential may increase significantly due to a lot of very granular, fine-scale debris in the circulation, even if the raw wind velocities drop a bit.
 

Lori

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#10
Yeah, it was definitely an abnormally slow mover, made even worse by the fact that it seemed to have slowed down just as it reached Double Creek. It isn't all that unusual to see such a slow-moving tornado in parts of the plains, but of course it's very unusual to see one of such intensity. One recent example that comes to mind is the 5/28/13 Bennington, KS wedge, which traveled in a looping path so slowly that it damn near stood stationary for the better part of an hour. IIRC, some locations likely experienced >100 mph winds for 45+ minutes, and there were a few places along the path where the tornado almost stopped altogether.

Jarrell was far more destructive in part because it was just an incredibly intense tornado, but also probably in part because it had scoured up so much dirt and dust that it created a sandblasting sort of effect. I recall reading a study a while back that suggested a tornado's destructive potential may increase significantly due to a lot of very granular, fine-scale debris in the circulation, even if the raw wind velocities drop a bit.
Wow (concerning the fine-scale debris)!

Do you have link with info about the Bennington, KS wedge? I'd really like to read on it, I think my attention was more on the El Reno in that time span and I don't remember that tornado! Thanks!
 
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28
Location
Pennsylvania
#11
Sure! Jason Samenow did a great write-up on it for WaPo's Capital Weather Gang right here.

Wikipedia actually has a pretty good summary as well, right here.

Interesting quote from Josh Wurman in the first article:

“There was about a 2.5 km region (1.5 mile diameter) with winds of 100 mph or more,” Wurman said. “If this were moving, say, 2 mph, it would mean 45 minutes of 100 mph winds.”

Wurman said the “core flow” region of the twister – with winds of 150 mph or higher (EF4 to EF5 level, the highest levels on the 0-5 Enhanced Fujita scale) – was almost half a mile wide, and likely remained over the same area 15 minutes.

15 minutes of winds of 150-247 mph would be pretty horrible,” Wurman said. “Had this occurred over a built up area, there would have been EF5 damage.”
 

Dissident Aggressor

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#12
I know it is out of the blue for me to post here all of a sudden after a lull in activity; and in this particular thread after nearly a year of no replies in it, but I do it with good reason. Not long ago, I was able to get a hold of footage of this tornado's transitioning stage in its entirety. I was given permission from the person who provided the video to me to upload it, so it can now be found here:

 

WesL

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#13
I know it is out of the blue for me to post here all of a sudden after a lull in activity; and in this particular thread after nearly a year of no replies in it, but I do it with good reason. Not long ago, I was able to get a hold of footage of this tornado's transitioning stage in its entirety. I was given permission from the person who provided the video to me to upload it, so it can now be found here:

Welcome Back! That is fantastic video. Where did you get it from?
 
#14
One thing that caught my eye here is how pronounced and sharp the dry line is, especially compared to the 5/3/99 storm system (I know there's a similar animation for May 3 out there, I just can't find it).

I also still don't believe that ALL of the F5 damage was down to slow speed and sandblasting. Debris was granulated into gravel-sized pieces, cars were torn to pieces, and the ground was scoured down to 18 inches, which to my knowledge is the second or third deepest ever recorded, (behind the 4/27/11 Philadelphia tornado and allegedly tied with the 4/3/74 Guin tornado). That just screams extreme intensity. Maybe not the strongest tornado ever like some people say, but in my humble opinion it's definitely in the top 10 and probably top 5.
 

Lori

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#15
As always, this tornado fascinates and terrifies me!!


Sent from my iPhone using TalkWeather
 
#16
As always, this tornado fascinates and terrifies me!!


Sent from my iPhone using TalkWeather
I've actually seen a post on another forum from an EMT who responded to the Jarrell tornado, and when he got to Double Creek, he actually thought the ambulance driver had gone down the wrong road. I believe it was the sheriff who said that he was confused by there being almost no debris...or signs that anything had ever been there at all except for empty foundations.
 
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2
Location
Birmingham, AL
#17
New/old member (I was originally a member in 2002), just signed up again!

I just had to comment on this thread! The Jarrell F5 is by far the most fascinating tornado I’ve ever researched. I remember seeing the newspaper photos the day after it hit, just one big, black column of evil.
 
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#19
I also still don't believe that ALL of the F5 damage was down to slow speed and sandblasting. Debris was granulated into gravel-sized pieces, cars were torn to pieces, and the ground was scoured down to 18 inches, which to my knowledge is the second or third deepest ever recorded, (behind the 4/27/11 Philadelphia tornado and allegedly tied with the 4/3/74 Guin tornado). That just screams extreme intensity. Maybe not the strongest tornado ever like some people say, but in my humble opinion it's definitely in the top 10 and probably top 5.
I find it telling that both the Jarrell tornado and the Smithville tornado of 4/27, at opposite ends of the forward speed spectrum, are both described as producing some of the most extreme damage ever surveyed (the edge going to Jarrell for being essentially unsurviveable above ground). I think both were exceptionally violent and it's likely they would have produced similar, if not quite as extreme, damage had they been moving at closer to "average" speed.

I only recently came across this video of the Jarrell tornado, and the violence of the rotation even in its narrow early stages was truly astounding. You'd swear the video has to be sped up, but it isn't.

 
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66
Location
Tennessee
#20
I was reading through my copy of Tom Grazulis's excellent book The Tornado: Nature's Ultimate Windstorm when I came across a rather interesting tidbit. For context, it's in the chapter on the Fujita Scale and the particular segment this is from talks about the possible influences of the forward speed of a tornado on the level of damage it could cause.

This particular paragraph (on page 143 of my copy) describes a case that not only is eerily similar to the Jarrell storm, but occurred just a few days shy of exactly fifty years before the latter:

Tom Grazulis said:
An abnormal time of passage of a tornado can cause wind speeds to be either underestimated or overestimated. A slow-moving tornado could produce an overestimate of wind speeds just as poor home construction can. In slow-moving tornadoes, lower wind speeds may sweep away a house that is subjected to their forces over a longer period, perhaps for a full minute rather than just a few seconds. For instance, on May 31, 1947, a tornado was about 8 miles west-southwest of Leedey, Oklahoma. It moved slowly (about 15 mph) to the east-northeast. Sirens were sounded and warnings were spread from house to house. The half-mile-wide funnel reached town about 30 minutes after it was first spotted. It took 5 full minutes to chew its way across the northern half of the unfortunate community. A large residential section of Leedey was left completely barren of walls or any standing structures. Little or no personal property from the houses could be found. Yards were stripped of lawns and all vegetation. People who had seen the devastation at Woodward (107 dead on April 9 [earlier that year]) noted that at least there were piles of debris at Woodward. Most of the 7 fatalities were elderly or hearing-impaired.
Notably enough, although the Jarrell storm had an even slower forward speed than the Leedey storm, and took a decidedly different direction (south-southwest as opposed to east-northeast), the descriptions of the damage from both storms sound quite similar.

Of course, there's always the question of how well the affected structures in both cases were constructed (IIRC, in the Jarrell case the quality of construction was basically all over the place), but given the description of things like the vegetation being stripped away, it leads me to wonder about both tornadoes--that is, perhaps they were both exceptionally intense tornadoes produced by slow-moving supercells. It also makes me wonder just how often such a thing could actually occur--I've heard of suggestions for possibly similar candidate cases for this kind of storm, though unfortunately I can't recall any details offhand.
 

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