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Looking back at a historic early-March tornado outbreak

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — On this day ten years ago, the Ohio Valley and portions of the southern U.S. experienced a widespread and devastating tornado outbreak. This would end up being one of the deadliest outbreaks on record for early March. Far southern Indiana was even heavily impacted, but it could’ve been just as bad over a more widespread area of the state.

March 2, 2012 was a warm and humid day that featured a powerful system in which it tracked towards the Great Lakes region. This would set the stage for a very large area of warm and moist air from the Ohio Valley into the southeastern U.S. Exceptionally high amounts of wind shear (change of wind speed and direction with height) were present in the aforementioned areas. These ingredients altogether opened the door for the possibility of strong to violent tornadoes.

By 11:30 AM EST, the Storm Prediction Center upgraded to a High Risk of severe weather. It is important to note that we were using a different risk level scale back in 2012. Activity would get started late Friday morning in northern Alabama with an EF3 tornado through the city of Harvest.

Around the time of the risk upgrade, central Indiana dealt with several severe thunderstorms that would produce numerous hail reports. Additional strong tornadoes would take place over the next couple of hours in Tennessee, Kentucky, and southern Indiana. At 2:50 PM EST, the most violent and deadliest tornado of the outbreak would touch down near Fredericksburg, IN. It did not take long for this tornado to cause severe destruction and massive deforestation.

The tornado briefly weakened before crossing interstate 65, but it would restrengthen and take aim on Henryville, IN. Henryville would by far suffer the worst of this violent tornado’s rampage as it leveled many homes and even struck the school complex in town. Once the tornado left town, it dramatically weakened and became much more narrow. It briefly strengthened to violent status one more time before it dissipated near Bedford, KY.

The Henryville, IN tornado was later rated EF4 and was on the ground for 49 miles. Unfortunately, 11 people lost their lives. This was the first violent tornado in Indiana since June 11, 1998. Another violent EF4 tornado would be spawned by the Henryville storm in which it ripped into Crittenden and Morning View, KY. Four people would be killed by this second and final EF4 tornado.

Cincinnati, Ohio would end up having a scare as a deadly EF3 tornado passed just to the south of the city around 5 PM EST. More deadly tornadoes would take place in eastern Kentucky and western West Virginia. The longest tracked tornado of the outbreak took place from Mariba, KY to Ranger, WV in which it was a rain-wrapped EF3. It stayed on the ground for nearly 90 miles and killed ten people. Tornadic activity continued in mainly Ohio, Tennessee, Alabama, and Georgia for the remainder of the day. Additional tornadoes were spawned on March 3rd in the southeastern United States.

In total, 70 tornadoes touched down altogether over a span of nearly 24 hours with five of those occurring in Indiana. We would end up losing 41 people due to this intense outbreak. This would end up becoming the second deadliest tornado outbreak in early March for the U.S. since record keeping officially started in 1950. Only the 1966 Candlestick Park tornado has a higher death toll for a tornadic system in early March.

One interesting thing to note is that the forecast preceding March 2nd had more of central Indiana in the potential worst of the severe weather. Once we got to the morning of the event, everything shifted more south. This does not change the fact that many people’s lives were changed forever for areas mainly south of us.