(NEXSTAR) – A powerful storm system and cold front spawned a tornado outbreak that led to multiple fatalities and left devastating destruction across multiple states Friday night in what might have been the first-ever “quad-state” tornado.
It will be days before the National Weather Service can confirm whether this was one tornado or multiple, but the fact that it happened overnight might have played a role in supercharging the deadly storms.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) had warned on Thursday of possible “nocturnal tornadoes,” weather phenomena known to be particularly dangerous.
Nocturnal tornadoes, as the name suggests, are tornadoes that occur overnight. Generally, tornadoes that occur during these hours are less common or less severe than their evening or daytime counterparts, but the NOAA has found they’re twice as likely to kill.
In a report released earlier this year by NOAA’s Storm Prediction Center, researchers explored the difficulty in forecasting such storms and subsequently communicating the necessary warnings to the affected populations.
“Nocturnal tornadoes are difficult to forecast, difficult to see (and therefore confirm), and difficult to respond to because much of the population is asleep when they occur,” reads the report.
Forecasters have more trouble anticipating the storms and identifying them in real-time, they said, as these tornadoes tend to form rapidly amid “quasi-linear convective systems” — i.e., a family or line of storms moving together.
There’s also one region of the U.S. that seems to experience more nocturnal tornadoes than any other — the Southeast — where the tornadoes “tend to have higher wind shear values produces,” among other dangerous characteristics.
“The Southeast also has unique socioeconomic characteristics, including a higher mobile home population and a higher proportion of people living below the poverty line,” stated the report.
“These mobile homes are more susceptible to damage from weaker tornadoes, making them particularly dangerous during a tornadic event.”
The report, compiled by researchers with the NOAA, the University of Oklahoma, and the National Weather Center, among others, had also determined that the public was less confident they would see any warnings that were issued at night, and particularly between the hours of 12:00 a.m. and 4:00 a.m.
“We also show that individual characteristics like age and the number of weather information sources someone accesses impact confidence in one’s ability to receive warnings during this time frame,” the report reads.