The historically deadly 2011 tornado season has left a tragic signature in Joplin, Mo., and that region is bracing for more severe weather the next two days.
The Joplin death toll stands at 89 and could climb, making it the deadliest single tornado outbreak since the unbelievable 1953 season, National Weather Service officials said this afternoon.
Based on preliminary investigations, the Joplin twister has been designated an EF-4 on the Enhanced Fujita scale, with winds as high as 198 m.p.h.
It touched down at 5:41 p.m., 24 minutes after the warning was issued, and cut a path of about 3/4 of a mile wide.
The death toll was so high in this case because the twister happened to rampage through a poulated area, a "rare event" in the words of Russ Schneider, director of the Storm Prediction Center, which has been a very busy place this spring.
Over 1,000 tornadoes have touched down so far this season, and the record 1,817 sightings of 2004 isn't out of reach.
With the incredible late April outbreak, the seasonal death toll stands at 454. That's the highest total through May since 1950.
This season, for reasons that aren't clear, the tornado belts have shifted to the east. Schneider said that's contributed to the death toll, since areas to the east tend to be more populated than the traditional domains of tornado alley.
Schneider warned that "a major tornado outbreak" is possible in the central United States tomorrow, including in cities such as Wichita and Tulsa.
What's worse, he said, the nation is still in the peak of the season.