Early tornado reports are whirling in now that spring has finally arrived, and it’s not looking pretty. In fact, as of last month, the country’s preliminary tornado reports showed numbers well above average, according to The Weather Channel. Here’s a closer look at the data to date, along with the reason for the rise in this dangerous weather phenomenon.
2017 Tornadoes to Date
As of early March, according to The Weather Channel, the number of U.S. tornadoes had reached a five-year high for that point in the season. Specifically, the Storm Prediction Center (SPC) at NOAA had logged a staggering 299 preliminary reports of these mobile, destructive, funnel-shaped storm systems. This was more than twice the 10-year average of 133 between 2005 and 2015.
Not only have there been more tornadoes this season, but they’ve been deadly. A January 2017 tornado traveling at roughly 70 MPH tore through parts of Georgia, causing more than 20 deaths along the Gulf Coast and in the Deep South. This was the country’s deadliest January tornado since 1969, and spurred 2017’s tornado death toll—not even one month into the year—to top the total tornado death toll for all of 2016.
Just over a month later between February 28 and March 1, more tornadoes ravaged parts of the Midwest, South and East. Said The Weather Channel after this outbreak, “Together with the confirmed tornado count, the 1,002 severe reports made this the most active 48-hour period for severe weather in the U.S. since May 25-26, 2011 tallied 1,323 severe reports.”
What Lies Ahead
Many more tornadoes may be still be to come. Earlier this year, EcoWatch listed an increase in tornadoes and tornado-associated deaths in its roundup of “6 Weather Predictions for 2017“, declaring, “As with Atlantic hurricanes, even a mostly quiet season can still produce deadly mayhem if one destructive event, such as a major landfalling hurricane or a family of violent tornadoes, happens to hit the wrong place at the wrong time….It’s thus hard to tell how tornado counts will evolve in 2017….However, given the very low activity this year, there’s a good chance that we will see more twisters prowling the nation in 2017 than we did in 2016.”
Meanwhile, if one of U.S. Tornadoes models for late spring comes to fruition, May could yield the second-highest monthly tornado count on record.
Why the Uptick in Tornadoes?
Says The Weather Channel, “One reason for the far-above-average first two-plus months of 2017 is the persistent warmth of the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean Sea. This helps to generate plenty of warm, moist air into which low-pressure systems can tap, providing fuel for severe thunderstorms to develop.”
In fact, this is the first year in well over a century that the sea surface temperatures averaged across the entire Gulf of Mexico never dipped below 73 degrees. This bodes poorly when it comes to potential tornado counts, according to a report from Climate.gov, which predicted all the way back in October that warmer-than-average water temperatures in the Gulf could lead to an increase in tornado outbreaks.
And while tornadoes are notoriously hard to predict, NOAA scientists did assert that “any predictive capability is of large societal benefit” in providing everyone from emergency response agencies and individuals to organizations and communities with “advance warning” of an imminent and unusually active storm season.
Which begs the question: With April only half over, May still to come, and the reality of global warming suggesting the likelihood of even more record-breaking tornado seasons in the years ahead, what steps have you taken to ensure the safety and security of your organization and its constituents during tornadoes, hurricanes, and other extreme weather situations?