Perryville tornado had winds up to 165 mph, meteorologists say

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PERRYVILLE, Mo. • The tornado that killed one motorist and destroyed homes in Perryville on Tuesday night packed winds of up to 165 mph and covered nearly 50 miles, weather officials said Thursday.

The National Weather Service has preliminarily labeled the tornado an EF-3 on the Enhanced Fujita Scale. A final report is expected by Friday.

Wind strength of a tornado in that category is between 136 and 165 mph.

By comparison, the Joplin tornado in May 2011 that killed 161 people and injured more than 1,000 was an EF-5, with winds estimated at more than 200 mph.

Surveyors look for these signs for an EF-3: severe damage, with roofs torn from well-constructed buildings, a majority of trees uprooted and vehicles lifted off the ground.

In the United States, 844 tornadoes over the last 30 years were considered EF-3, said Patrick Marsh, warning coordination meteorologist with NOAA’s Storm Prediction Center.

The lead meteorologist for the survey, Rick Shanklin from the National Weather Service office in Paducah, Ky., said Thursday that he was doing additional research to see how far the damage went. But Thursday night, the Weather Service said on Facebook that the twister was on the ground for almost 50 miles, from Perryville to near Christopher, Ill.

Shanklin has seen most of Perry County. “Definitely, we have some storm damage into the EF-3,” he said. “I have high confidence we’re somewhere in that range. It’s possible it could be slightly higher than that even.”

Rescuers searched 180 homes, and about 60 percent of them had moderate to major damage. In addition to the motorist who died when his pickup was swept up by the tornado on Interstate 55, about 10 people in Perry County suffered injuries, none severe. Most of the victims had cuts and scrapes; all have been released from hospitals, police said.

The damage totals fluctuate. Shanklin had seen seven regularly built frame homes, one modular home, and at least three detached house garages that were leveled. Shanklin said he had not seen eastern Perry County yet, so the numbers may rise. Perryville’s mayor has estimated 30 to 60 homes were gone.

Shanklin said: “A lot of other homes, typical well-built homes, have lost their entire roof, most of their walls. There are dozens of those.”

The Weather Service in Paducah covers south-central Missouri, the western third of Kentucky, part of southwest Indiana and Southern Illinois. The area sees about one or two EF-3 tornadoes a year, Shanklin said.

The preliminary finding for EF-3 was based on several factors, said Robin Smith, one of the meteorologists who toured the damage.

“The biggest thing that led us to that conclusion, we saw seven different homes in two different locations that were completely destroyed,” Smith said. “No standing walls, no type of structure.”

The survey team also looked at damage to the trees, whether they were uprooted or snapped, and the fact that dozens of power poles were snapped or overturned. The tornado traveled for 13 to 15 miles in Perry County and was a half-mile wide at the Moore Drive area, where three homes were leveled, off Highway 61.

“That’s a good-size tornado,” Smith said.

A smaller tornado such as an EF-1 may only be 100 or 200 yards wide, he said.

by Kim Bell, St. Louis Post-Dispatch
March 2, 2017

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Kyrie Wagner