March 2, 2012 Weather Summary
The deadly tornado outbreak that occurred on Friday, March 2, 2012 is one that no one from Eastern Kentucky will soon forget.
Thirty-five tornadoes occurred across Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, West Virginia and Virginia that day. Of those tornadoes, six occurred in the WYMT coverage area.
Three of those 35 tornadoes killed 19 people as the storms ripped through the region around sunset that Friday. A total of 26 people died statewide.
This was the first time in recorded history that a tornado affected Martin County. It was also the first time an EF2 or greater tornado was recorded in Menifee, Magoffin, Johnson and Martin Counties.
A low pressure system was centered over southern Missouri with an associated warm front extending eastward into Kentucky. Showers and thunderstorms were scattered along the warm front as it pushed northward, creating warm and unstable conditions across the commonwealth.
Around noon, the high risk for severe weather was expanded into Eastern Kentucky, as conditions were favorable for strong storms capable of producing long track tornadoes, damaging hail and winds. This is the only time the Storm Prediction Center has ever issued a high risk that included all of Eastern Kentucky.
A strong cold front continued to move toward Kentucky as the low pressure system strengthened across the Great Lakes region.
The first official tornado touchdown in Eastern Kentucky that day occurred at 5:39 p.m. in Menifee County, southwest of Mariba. The tornado quickly gained EF3 strength (estimated winds of 140 mph) as it moved eastward, just south of Wellington.
The tornado continued to expand, and was a mile wide as it moved through Morgan County. The tornado passed through Ezel before directly impacting West Liberty at EF3 strength at 5:58 p.m., causing catastrophic damage to the downtown square. A total of six people died in West Liberty
From there, the tornado moved into Lawrence County, along the northern border of Johnson County. The storm was beginning to weaken to an EF1 but killed two more people in Lawrence County.
The tornado then moved out of Kentucky into Wayne County W. Va., where it caused extensive damage in Dunlow and Kiahsville before coming to an end in Lincoln County.
This tornado was on the ground for 86 miles and killed a total of ten people (two in Menifee County, six in Morgan County and two in Lawrence County). A long track tornado is not common in this region. Many components came together to produce a powerful storm that would typically only be seen out west.
While the first tornado was moving through West Liberty, another powerful storm was developing. At 6:50 p.m., a tornado touched down in Wolfe County. The tornado was an EF1 as it moved through Wolfe County and quickly crossed into Magoffin County. That is when the storm began to intensify.
The tornado had strengthened into a high-end EF3 (estimated winds of 160 mph) by the time it struck the town of Salyersville. Numerous homes were destroyed, some leveled. Despite the intensive damage, no fatalities were reported in Salyersville.
The tornado sustained its strength as a high-end EF3 as it passed through Johnson County, where it killed two people and damaged or destroyed several homes.
Finally, the tornado moved through Martin County, passing between Davella and Debord. Although the tornado weakened to an EF2, it killed two more people before crossing the state line.
The tornado then passed into Mingo County, W. Va. The storm was not in Mingo County long before the tornado came to an end, but it did extensive damage to a 60-foot communication tower.
This tornado was on the ground for 49 miles and killed a total of four people (two in Johnson County and two in Martin County).
The final tornado to cause fatalities occurred in Laurel County near East Bernstadt. The tornado touched down at 7:04 p.m. and quickly gained EF2 strength (estimated winds of 125 mph).
This tornado was only on the ground for 7 miles, but it killed six people and damaged or destroyed several homes.
The three fatal tornadoes that struck Eastern Kentucky left a devastating mark on the region. Repairing and rebuilding what was in the path of these tornadoes took well over a year in some locations, while some people's lives were changed forever. As we look back five years later, we are reminded of how far we have already come as the people of Eastern Kentucky continue to prove their resilience in the wake of this tragedy.