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NWS: Western Kentucky tornado was EF-4, and on ground 165 miles

Kentucky tornadoes
Posted at 2:15 PM, Dec 17, 2021

PADUCAH, Ky. — The massive tornado that struck Western Kentucky, including the town of Mayfield, was rated an EF-4 by the National Weather Service and was on the ground 165 miles.

This was the determination made by the National Weather Service after preliminary surveys were conducted by its offices in Paducah, Ky., Louisville, Memphis and teams of storm specialists.

Over a mile wide in some spots, the storm was rated a high EF-4. Storm damage from the tornado indicated 190 mph wind speeds, according to Greg Meffert of the Paducah NWS office, making it a very strong EF-4. Meffert said an EF-5 is rated 201 mph. The tornado was an EF-2 or higher almost the entire time it was on the ground and it shattered the previous distance record for December, which was 25 miles.

Western Kentucky Tornado Path, 165 miles, from National Weather Service.
A National Weather Service map of the EF-4 tornado that struck western Kentucky on Friday, Dec. 10. The storm traveled 165 miles and was rated an EF-4.

The NWS said the tornado started one mile southwest of Woodland Mills, Tn., and ended 2.5 miles northeast of Falls of Rough, Ky. The tornado began at 8:49 p.m. CST and ended 11:47 p.m. CST and was on the ground nearly three hours.

Teams of meteorologists and structural engineers came to Kentucky to determine the storm's scale rating. He said there are misconceptions that only an EF-5 tornado can take a house completely off a foundation, but that's not the case. Most homes will be destroyed by an EF-4 and many by EF-3s. The high-level EF-4 damage Meffert said was recorded was unlike any storm he's encountered in his 32-year career.

"Some of this stuff we've never seen before," Meffert said.

The surveys are only preliminary at this point, according to Meffert. He said there is still a chance there may be revisions to the storm rating. But the important take away from the tornado was the Tornado Warning was given out 22 minutes before it struck.

"I really believe if we didn't have that lead time, if we didn't educate people so much, there would have been a lot more fatalities," Meffert said.

The only EF-5 tornado in Kentucky history was on April 3, 1974 which hit Breckinridge and Meade counties west of Louisville near the Ohio River.

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