The storm system that produced three confirmed tornadoes Dec. 11 in Warren County was one of the rarest the region has ever seen, the National Weather Service said.
The first of the twisters was an EF-3 that began in Logan County with winds up to 140 mph. It traveled 28 miles before ending in western Warren County.
National Weather Service meteorologist Pierce Larkin said the second was on the ground at around the same time and tore through subdivisions like Creekwood and the U.S. 31-W By-Pass area in Bowling Green. The EF-3 tornado traveled on the ground for just under 30 miles.
The third was an EF-2 with winds up to 115 mph. Larkin said this tornado wasn’t on the ground very long, but it still managed to heavily damage the NCM Motorsports Park.
“In terms of a December tornado outbreak, I can’t remember in my studies another like this in the Ohio Valley,” Larkin said. “This is very rarely seen, and it was more impressive that it was seen in December.”
The line of storms that first hit the region late Dec. 10 was more than 300 miles long and produced several tornadoes across the state.
A fourth tornado in the region hit the Cave City area in Barren County with winds up to 130 mph, and a fifth touched down in Hart County just south of Munfordville.
“This was actually pretty unique in terms of the way this storm system set up,” Larkin said. “It was so spread out over multiple states. The whole area was covered in a favorable environment for super cells. It is extremely unique.”
He said two factors helped create such ideal conditions for tornadoes – great energy and high levels of wind shear.
“It was very windy ahead of the storm and the wind field was impressive,” Larkin said. “That allowed for moisture and higher temperatures to push into the region. Above the surface, there was a lot of cooler air. That created an unstable environment. When you combine that with wind shear, that’s what set this up to produce historic tornadoes.”
There were 78 confirmed fatalities in Kentucky from this system that destroyed hundreds of buildings and left thousands across a handful of states without power.
“This kind of environment is almost always going to be rare,” he said. “Tornado outbreaks like this are 99 percentile outcomes. It takes a lot to have an event like this unfold. To have another outbreak occur like this will take a lot – especially in December.”
– Follow reporter John Reecer on Twitter @JReecerBGDN or visit bgdailynews.com.
U.S. health officials on Monday cut isolation restrictions for Americans who catch the coronavirus from 10 to five days and similarly shortened the time that close contacts need to quarantine.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officials said the guidance is in keeping with growing evidence that people with the coronavirus are most infectious in the two days before and three days after symptoms develop.
The decision also was driven by a recent surge in COVID-19 cases, propelled by the omicron variant.
Early research suggests omicron may cause milder illnesses than earlier versions of the coronavirus. But the sheer number of people becoming infected – and therefore having to isolate or quarantine – threatens to crush the ability of hospitals, airlines and other businesses to stay open, experts said.
CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said the country is about to see a lot of omicron cases.
“Not all of those cases are going to be severe. In fact, many are going to be asymptomatic,” she said. “We want to make sure there is a mechanism by which we can safely continue to keep society functioning while following the science.”
Last week, the agency loosened rules that previously called on health care workers to stay out of work for 10 days if they test positive. The new recommendations said workers could go back to work after seven days if they test negative and don’t have symptoms. And the agency said isolation time could be cut to five days, or even fewer, if there are severe staffing shortages.
Now, the CDC is changing the isolation and quarantine guidance for the general public to be even less stringent.
The guidance is not a mandate; it’s a recommendation to employers and state and local officials. Last week, New York state said it would expand on the CDC’s guidance for health care workers to include employees who have other critical jobs that are facing a severe staffing shortage.
It’s possible other states will seek to shorten their isolation and quarantine policies, and the CDC is trying to get out ahead of the shift.
“It would be helpful to have uniform CDC guidance” that others could draw from, rather than a mishmash of policies, Walensky said.
The CDC’s guidance on isolation and quarantine has been confusing, and the new recommendations are “happening at a time when more people are testing positive for the first time and looking for guidance,” said Lindsay Wiley, an American University public health law expert.
Nevertheless, the guidance continues to be complex.
The isolation rules are for people who are infected. They are the same for people who are unvaccinated, partly vaccinated, fully vaccinated or boosted.
The quarantine rules are for people who were in close contact with an infected person but not infected themselves.
For quarantine, the clock starts the day someone is alerted to they may have been exposed to the virus.
Previously, the CDC said people who were not fully vaccinated and who came in close contact with an infected person should stay home for at least 10 days.
Now the agency is saying only people who got booster shots can skip quarantine if they wear masks in all settings for at least 10 days.
That’s a change. Previously, people who were fully vaccinated – which the CDC has defined as having two doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, or one dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine – could be exempt from quarantine.
Now, people who got their initial shots but not boosters are in the same situation as those who are partly vaccinated or are not vaccinated at all: They can stop quarantine after five days if they wear masks in all settings for five days afterward.
Suspending both isolation and quarantine after five days is not without risk.
A lot of people get tested when they first feel symptoms, but many Americans get tested for others reasons, like to see if they can visit family or for work. That means a positive test result may not reveal exactly when a person was infected or give a clear picture of when they are most contagious, experts said.
When people get infected, the risk of spread drops substantially after five days, but it does not disappear for everyone, said Dr. Aaron Glatt, a New York physician who is a spokesman for the Infectious Diseases Society of America.
“If you decrease it to five days, you’re still going to small but significant number of people who are contagious,” he said.
That’s why wearing masks is a critical part of the CDC guidance, Walensky said.
Storms forecast to move through the southern half of the country later this week may provide a chance for isolated, strong storms in the area on New Year’s Day.
However, the National Weather Service in Louisville said that while it’s too early to predict what exactly to expect, this round will “not be comparable” to the historic and devastating Dec. 10-11 storms.
National Weather Service meteorologist Ryan Sharp said the greatest risk for considerable severe weather in this upcoming system will be south of southcentral Kentucky.
“That area (Bowling Green) is not out of question for severe weather, but nothing like the outbreak we just had,” Sharp said. “It’s still way out there. That’s the main thing. There are a lot of factors that come into play for severe weather to develop.
“A lot of people are still scared right now,” he said. “I really want to caution anyone who compares that historic event (Dec. 10-11 tornadoes) to any other system. We want people to know that was a rare occurrence.”
Despite the low risk, Sharp urged the public to keep track of the weather through local media or the National Weather Service.
On Monday, the National Storm Prediction Center said the area having the risk for severe weather at the end of the week spanned as far north as Bowling Green and as far south as Jackson, Miss.
Bowling Green and the rest of southcentral Kentucky was near the border of the highlighted area for severe weather.
“We will have several rounds of storms this week to the south,” Sharp said. “The greatest chance for Bowling Green to see severe storms will be on New Year’s Day, but it’s not comparable at all to the previous system. We just ask people to watch the forecast in the coming days. You want to make sure you get the right information so you are not scared.”
– Follow reporter John Reecer on Twitter @JReecerBGDN or visit bgdailynews.com.