Numerous warnings were issued in advance of tornadoes that killed dozens of candle factory and Amazon workers
The threat of the tornadoes that have ravaged Kentucky and other US states late Friday and early Saturday was known days in advance, with both local news stations and the National Weather Service in local areas warning of possible tornadoes and severe storms.
Tornadoes struck a candle factory in Kentucky and an Amazon warehouse in Illinois, where workers, many of whom are now buried beneath rubble, were on the job filling Christmas orders despite these warnings. Dozens have been killed at the two plants, with the death toll at the Amazon plant now at six. In total, more than 100 are feared dead from the massive storm.
In Mayfield, Kentucky, where first responders are crawling over bodies in a candle factory to get to survivors, the Hazardous Weather Outlook report from National Weather Service (NWS) in Paducah, Kentucky mentioned possible tornadoes at 3:34 am CST on December 8, Thursday morning.
“Thunderstorms are forecast with the approach and passage of a strong cold front late Friday afternoon and Friday night,” the report read. “Strong to severe thunderstorms and locally heavy rainfall are possible Friday night. The main severe concerns will be damaging winds and a few tornadoes.”
Several other reports mentioning possible tornadoes preceded the obliteration of the candle factory.
At 3:59 am Friday morning, the NWS issued a report warning that “an organized outbreak of severe thunderstorms is possible tonight. The main hazards will be damaging winds and tornadoes, including the potential for a couple strong tornadoes... Conditions will be favorable for damaging winds and tornadoes along a broken line of storms, and a couple long-track tornadoes are possible.”
The last report was made on the day of the tragedy at 6:36 pm. “Tornado Watches are in effect for western Kentucky, southeast Missouri, southern Illinois, and southwest Indiana,” the statement read. It reiterated the previous warning, with the addition of “destructive” to the adjectives describing the potential tornadoes.
Local news also reported on the possibility of tornadoes multiple times. A Wednesday night forecast from MSNBC affiliate WPSD Local 6 in Paducah warned of a low to moderate chance of tornadoes and wind damage for Friday night and Saturday morning. The Thursday morning forecast reported a heightened likelihood for tornadoes while advancing the window by two hours, and the Friday morning weather forecast warned of an enhanced risk of tornadoes retreating the window by an hour.
KMOV 4 in St. Louis, Missouri reported on morning news about potential for thunderstorms and tornadoes the day the Amazon facility was destroyed in Edwardsville, Illinois, which is near St. Louis.
KMOV 4 weather caster Kent Ehrhardt stated on Friday morning, “Some of these [thunderstorms] could be quite strong with damaging winds, there is the potential for tornadoes as well as we go through midnight and beyond.” He warned viewers to “be aware of what is going on so get plugged in to the weather later on this evening.”
The National Weather Service in Saint Louis, Missouri warned of possible tornadoes as well, with the first report on possible tornadoes in the area made at 3:44 am CST Thursday morning. “There is a chance of thunderstorms late Friday afternoon into night across southeastern and east-central Missouri as well as south-central and southwestern Illinois. A few thunderstorms could become strong to severe in southeastern Missouri and southwestern Illinois late Friday evening into night. The main threat will be strong to damaging wind gusts, but a tornado is also possible.”
Three other warnings were made in the space between then and 6:00 pm Friday on the NWS website, with most warning that spotter activation would be needed. The warnings increased in severity.
At 2:58 pm on Thursday, the NWS reported: “Scattered severe storms are possible across southeast Missouri and southwest Illinois between 8 pm Friday night and 3 am early Saturday. Any storms that develop will be fast moving. The primary threat with these storms will be damaging winds. A few tornadoes will be possible as well.”
At 3:28 am Friday morning, the NWS stated, “The primary threat with these storms will be damaging winds and tornadoes.”
The final report on the day of the tragedy, at 5:59 pm Friday, reiterated the previous warnings with the addition of hail, noting that spotter activation was expected between 6:00 pm and 2:00 am the next day, corresponding roughly with the predictions of KMOV 4.
The tornado struck the Amazon facility at around 8:30 pm Friday, two and a half hours later.
More than 100 feared dead as tornadoes ravage Kentucky and other US states
More than 100 people are feared dead in Kentucky, Illinois and other US states following a series of devastating tornadoes on Friday night and early Saturday morning.
So far, the number of deaths reported are 70 in Kentucky, three in Tennessee, two in Arkansas and two in Illinois, but this number is expected to rise.
At least six Amazon workers died after a warehouse in Edwardsville, Illinois, on the northeast outskirts of St. Louis, Missouri, received a direct hit from a tornado at around 8:30 pm Friday night.
According to the Associated Press, a section of the warehouse wall the size of a football field collapsed, along with the roof above it.
Amazon workers were reportedly told to show up for their shift despite the tornado warnings throughout the region on Friday.
In Kentucky, a tornado struck an occupied candle factory in the city of Mayfield, with 100 workers in it. Dozens are feared dead, and 40 workers are still missing.
The factory was working 24 hours to build up inventory ahead of Christmas.
“My ears start popping,” Kyanna Parsons-Perez, a worker at the plant told CNN. “And it was like the building, we all just rocked back and forth, and then boom--everything fell on us.”
Parsons-Perez only survived after being pulled out from under five feet of debris. Rescuers told CNN that they have pulled “many, many” people from the rubble, some alive and some dead.
Drone footage posted by NPR from Mayfield shows scenes of utter devastation.
Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear gave a press conference at 4:00 pm and said that the death toll in that state currently stands at approximately 70 and could rise to more than 100. Beshear reported that it is unlikely that any more workers will be found alive inside the candle factory.
“This has been the most devastating tornado ever in our state’s history,” he said.
In Arkansas, a tornado hit a nursing home in the city of Monette, in the northeastern portion of the state. At least one resident was killed, and at least 20 have been injured.
Nearly 300,000 homes are currently without power in Tennessee, Kentucky, Arkansas, Illinois and Missouri.
The tornado outbreak is part of a major weather system affecting much of the US Midwest and Northeast. While tornadoes are common in the region that has been devastated, it is rare for this type of outbreak to occur in December.
Initial indications are that single massive tornado, which traveled for 225 miles, was responsible for the destruction of the candle factory and the nursing home in Arkansas. If confirmed, this would be the longest tornado tracked ever recorded.
The National Weather Service issued 146 tornado warnings, the most on record during the month of December. Weather researchers say tornadoes are occurring in greater “clusters” and that what is known as “tornado alley” in the Great Plains is shifting eastward.
Temperatures in several states on Friday were in the 70s and 80s. Dan Pydynowski, AccuWeather senior meteorologist, told the New York Times, “It was unusually warm, and there was moisture in place, and you had a strong cold front end. These are the ingredients for big storms in the spring, but not in mid-December.”
While no direct connection has yet been made to this storm, scientists have long warned that climate change is driving an increase in unusual and extreme weather events.