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Mountains no match for tornadoes: A look back at Pulaski’s EF-2 in 2011

The EF-2 struck just before sunset $5 million in damages
Published: Apr. 8, 2021 at 10:56 AM EDT
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PULASKI, Va. (WDBJ) - At the time, the tornado that touched down near the Town of Pulaski was one of the bigger tornadoes our area had seen, especially the New River Valley.

“I remember being on-air with the tornado warning and viewers were calling in reports of a tornado that appeared to be crossing the interstate,” recalls chief meteorologist Brent Watts.

The tornado touched down just before sunset, and because of the setting sun, and the fact smartphone cameras were still in their infancy, the only known photo of the tornado is from Dakota Burton as the storm came over the ridge.

The only known photo of the 2011 tornado that touched down in the Town of Pulaski.
The only known photo of the 2011 tornado that touched down in the Town of Pulaski.(Dakota Burton)

Following a storm survey by National Weather Service meteorologists, two separate tornado tracks were identified in the aftermath of this storm.

Two tornadoes touched down on April 8, 2011.
Two tornadoes touched down on April 8, 2011.(WDBJ7)

The first one touched down in the southwest portion of the town of Pulaski at 7:33pm and resulted in high-end EF2 damage (winds up to 125 mph) according to the storm survey (yellow line above).

The second tornado (green line above) tracked across Interstate 81 and through the community of Draper around 7:40pm, resulting in high-end EF1 damage (winds up to 110 mph).

Thankfully, no deaths were reported but there were nearly a dozen injured in the storms.

Around 300 structures were either destroyed or damaged with a cost of around $5 million in damages.

THE MOUNTAIN MYTH

The duo of tornadoes certainly helped disprove the long-standing myth that mountains prevent tornadoes from forming.

In fact, research from Virginia Tech graduate student, Kathryn Prociv may conclude just the opposite. Her research on “vorticity stretching” and how tornadoes interact with mountains has suggested that when rotating storms come down the mountains, the winds may accelerate, much like an ice skater spins more rapidly in a circle when their hands come down. Likewise, the acceleration can help the air spin faster, contributing to, or sometimes strengthening an existing tornado. [Learn more about her research here]

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