The tornado that sliced through Western Kentucky over the weekend, killing at least 77 and destroying thousands of homes and buildings, has been designated an EF4 by the National Weather Service.
The preliminary rating, announced Wednesday night, means the twister’s winds reached around 190 miles per hour. EF4 is the second-to-worst category on the scale for violence and devastation.
An EF4 is a violent designation because it causes “Devastating damage. Well- constructed houses leveled; structures with weak foundation blown some distance; cars thrown; large missiles generated,” according to NWS.
The tornado originated in Arkansas before beginning its trek through Tennessee and ripping through Kentucky from Fulton to Ohio counties, NWS Paducah’s preliminary research shows.
The EF4 tornado was on the ground for at least 163.5 miles in Kentucky, the service reported, and its destruction was at least a mile wide.
Paducah NWS Lead Forecaster Gregory Meffert said it was wider than a mile in other parts, and the the full track of the tornado, including outside of Kentucky, will be longer than the 163.5 number. Gov. Andy Beshear has estimated more than 200 miles.
While the worst of the tornadoes is now preliminarily a high end EF4, “it is not out of the question that at some point in time in the future that this could be upgraded to a five,” Meffert said.
Its winds would need to be confirmed over 200 miles per hour to get an EF5 designation, he said, and they’re just about 11 miles shy of that now.
Kentucky has experienced an EF5 tornado just once before, he said, on April 3, 1974. It hit Breckenridge and Meade counties. The last EF5 tornado in the nation was in Oklahoma in 2013, he added.
“The EF5s are pretty rare,” he said.
Meffert said the service can confirm two tornadoes — the EF4 that hit Mayfield and a long track EF3 that cut through Christian and Todd counties — but is investigating two others.
“I would not be surprised if there’s another couple … confirmed,” he added. More information should emerge in the coming days, he said, as surveys are still being done.
Twenty-one tornadoes have hit Kentucky in the month of December throughout the state’s history, Meffert said. Before this month, the tornado with the longest path in the state for the month of December was an EF1 that hit on Dec. 5, 1977, and was 25 miles long.
“Springtime — this is when we normally get the higher end tornadoes,” Meffert said. “We don’t normally get these in December.”