Post Updated To Include New Information And Results Of More Recent Surveys (see below)
What an amazing and terrible night.
Right from the get-go, this event had the makings of a monster. It was one of those days in which everything was 'appearing' to want to come together so perfectly later in the day in such not-before-seen ways that you almost expected it to somehow fizzle or miss the area. The Storm Prediction Center (severe weather arm of the National Weather Service) early in the day had shifted their "high risk" zone for tornadoes into our area-- a just about unprecedented move, in response to such amazing dynamics looking to collide overhead.
The main threat within this event was always the "Supercell" tornado. This would be a type of thunderstorm that just happens to form out ahead of the main line individually, in the 'warm sector' air ahead of a cold front. It gets to sample the best storm energy first as it plods along like a finely tuned engine of inflow and outflow.
Here's an example of how one of the tornadoes looked like on Doppler Radar (From the National Weather Service). The pixels are not as smoothed as they might be for TV broadcast, but you can clearly identify the relevant parts meteorologists would be looking for: The darker purple color is the main part of the supercell storm, where the strong updraft is permitting some serious hail formation (wet ice is the most reflective substance picked up by Doppler radar, and would score the highest dBZs and the 'baddest' looking colors). There is rotation in this storm as well, as you can see a clear "hook echo" on the underside of the storm. This would be your tornado. In really bad circumstances, you may also see high reflectivities in the bottom swirl of the hook echo-- this would be when a tornado's debris field is immense enough to get picked up by Doppler as well. Depending on the movement and orientation of these storms, you may get the tremendous hail (some reports were over 2" in diameter) and then the tornado, and sometimes you may get absolutely nothing, and then a tornado (as you can see is possible with just a tiny shift in the storms orientation or track).
Supercell thunderstorms can maintain their life-cycle well beyond a typical 20-30 minute lifespan of a traditional thunderstorm, and their internal circulation (called a 'meso-cyclone') can carry on for miles and miles (I'll get to that soon).
The first tornadoes that hit our radar screen has now been reported to be at around West Union, OH (in Adams County) around 5:30 pm.
This was part of a supercell thunderstorm, but the actual funnel did not stay on the ground through the duration, but instead bounced and skidded along a little bit (This was part of a supercell thunderstorm that first spawned an EF-0 tornado in Bracken Co, KY near the town of Berlin, KY, and then later had these touchdowns as well). Because of the different touchdowns, each are scored as different tornadoes. The strongest one happened to be just east of West Union, at times reaching E-F2 Status. By the time it had reached the Otway area, it was reduced to EF-0 status, which can still do a number to certain types of structures (as we showed with the fire station). There was also a discovery of an EF-0 tornado 6 miles southwest of Piketon (in a heavily wooded area that is difficult to reach). It "only" lasted 2 miles on the ground.
Around the same time, the action was getting going in Kentucky as well:
At 5:38 PM (within minutes of the Adams Co, OH tornado), the second tornado was spotted on radar near Mariba in Menifee County. It did some of its worst damage in West Liberty, KY (seen of another twister just two days earlier) just before 6:00pm. This storm is of particular historical value because of its track length. A recent survey determined this storm was on the ground for a total of 95 miles-- all the way to Alkol, WV in eastern Lincoln county. Quite possibly, this will stand as the longest tornado track in the tri-state's history (let alone including all other states east and north of it). There are a few at 60-miles in Kentucky's history, and stronger tornadoes, but nothing like this track's length.
While the event was well under-way (and while the West Liberty storm was still spinning), the strongest one of the night formed near Salyersville, KY at around 6:50pm. This one had the most breathtakingly ominous appearance on Doppler, particularly near Salyersville, and estimated wind speeds with this one approach 160-miles per hour. It's track was impressive too, a full 49 miles, including toppling a 280-foot radio tower in the mountains of Mingo county, WV as it lifted off (the shorter trees around the tower were unaffected).
So here are the stats:
One of the things that is pretty telling about the power and stamina of Supercells (particularly the tornadic ones) is their ability to such up debris from one area, and keep it suspended in the air, swirling about, until the storm itself fades. Here's a case in point:
This certificate from a school in Frenchburg, KY was found in Sissonville, WV. Though it's a little shorter 'as the crow flies', this trek is about a 150 mile driving distance(!) We have been receiving dozens of such examples, and all of them are a testament to the fury of nature.
ADDITIONAL ODDS AN ENDS -
Here is a radar loop animation of the tornado outbreak as seen by the Wilmington, OH National Weather Service office (Click to Animate):
Here's a link to Josh Fitzpatrick's breakdown of the "EF" Scale of tornadoes (because it's changed in recent years: Click Here...
Our hearts go out to the victims and all who know them in this terrible time. At last count, 40 people lost their lives in this outbreak, 19 in Kentucky alone. As folks are picking up the pieces, these same areas just a few days later are now dealing with several inches of snow and one of the more bitterly cold nights ahead. At the same time, such heart-warming and inspiring tales of sacrifice and giving have gone a long way in the tri-state.
Feel free to post any thoughts/comments below, and I will update this post with any new or correctable information as soon as I can.