Mayfield Kentucky tornado path not longest ever

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Officially, the longest tornado path of all time was a 219 mile path crossing three states in 1925. Polls indicate that the Kentucky tornado path in December was 167 miles long.

A catastrophic tornado devastated the town of Mayfield, Ky. On December 10, just after communities in Arkansas, Missouri and Tennessee were also affected by what was believed to be the same tornado.

The tornado was quickly dubbed the “four-state tornado” in some reports, such as meteorologists believed it could have stayed on the ground for more than 220 miles through Arkansas, Missouri, Tennessee and Kentucky. Such a path would be the longest in recorded history for a tornado.

Now, new surveys released by the National Weather Service are providing insight into these claims.

THE QUESTION

Did the Mayfield, Kentucky tornado have the longest path in history?

THE SOURCES

THE ANSWER

No, NWS surveys did not show the Mayfield, Ky. Tornado to have the longest path in recorded history. What was initially believed to be a tornado was actually two separate tornadoes.

WHAT WE FOUND

The tornado that struck Mayfield, Ky., Was sparked by a storm system that caused more than 62 tornadoes, according to surveys by the National Weather Service (NWS). It was both the longest and strongest tornado in the outbreak, but its trajectory is only listed as 165 miles long, much shorter than the more than 220 miles that the NWS believed the trajectory could be.

This is because the initial surveys by the NWS Weather Forecasting Offices (WFO), released on December 9, found that the more than 220 mile long path was in fact created by two separate tornadoes: an 80-plus tornado. miles from Arkansas to Tennessee in the NWS Memphis forecast and a 165-mile-long tornado that touched down just before the Kentucky border in Tennessee and moved into western Kentucky through several areas forecast.

If this was a single tornado, as meteorologists initially believed it might have been, it would have been on the ground much longer than any other tornado in history. The longest tornado in recorded history is the 1925 “Tornado Tri-State,” which traced a path just under 220 miles in length through Missouri, Illinois and Indiana, according to reports. official documents.

The length of a tornado’s path can be difficult to determine in part because of the nature of tornadoes – they are difficult to detect on radar. Instead, meteorologists use radar to track the mesocyclone, an area of ​​rotation inside a supercell storm that can create tornadoes.

“The mesocyclone is like the meat of the storm itself. It’s like the heart of the storm, ”said Taylor Kanost, meteorologist at WOI in Des Moines, Iowa. “To turn a mesocyclone into a tornado, you need that mesocyclone to tighten and then extend to the ground.”

These two tornadoes originated from the same mesocyclone, as the NWS Weather Forecast Center said was notably long lasting. Several WFOs had to travel along the path of the mesocyclone in their coverage area to determine whether it had spawned only one tornado or if it had spawned several.

This is a process called tornado surveying, which NWS Paducah explained in a graphic posted on Twitter. NWS meteorologists physically go to the suspect path – determined by damage, storm reports and mesocyclone radar data – to investigate the damage, take photos, talk to survivors and plot GPS points. They then determine what the tornado damage was and what the straight line wind damage was. When they have determined it, they can make a path.

“If it is straight line wind damage, all the debris is falling in one direction and the tornado damage is a bit more chaotic,” Kanost explained.

On the NWS Paducah Damage Investigation Interactive Map, there is a gap of approximately 14 miles between the two preliminary paths. NWS Memphis called the damage in this gap “sporadic” and said there was a “not insignificant” gap in the damage reports. According to NWS Memphis, the first tornado narrowed in width as it approached the end of its track before dissipating.

While the NWS is confident enough to split the path into two separate tornadoes for now, its investigations are still ongoing and the paths are subject to change.

“We continue to assess data from UAS, aircraft and satellites regarding the progress of the storm as it passed through Obion County,” NWS Memphis said, referring to the county where the first tornado s ‘is cleared and the second tornado has started. “If data from additional sources reveals additional critical information, this statement will be updated. “

Whether the paths stay the same or are updated, the tornado stayed on the ground much longer than a regular tornado. Few tornadoes follow more than 150 miles, and even fewer have followed that long since the late 1970s. Prior to this, the “tornado families” of several tornadoes were often followed as a single tornado, as it can be difficult to track. correctly record such groups of tornadoes without detailed scientific investigations, according to the NWS. Tornadoes were once assessed and recorded remotely using log reports and photos before local WFOs took over investigations.

As a result, many older tornadoes with extremely long tracks likely did not stay on the ground for as long as official records indicate. Even the “Tornado Tri-State”, which officially had a 219 mile track, may have actually been multiple tornadoes. A 2013 study determined that its longest length of continuous, unbroken path for this tornado was either 174 miles long or 151 miles long.

The Kentucky tornado’s track was the longest recorded by the NWS since 1975, when tornado surveying methods improved.

More from VERIFY: Yes, it’s rare for a serious tornado outbreak to occur in December

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KEjLPRoF5Q

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