Tornado season update

NOAA’s Preliminary tornado statistics including records set in 2011, from noaa.gov

Deadly Tornado Strikes Joplin, Missouri

NOAA satellite shows storm system moments before spawning tornado in Joplin, Mo. (Credit: NOAA) - click image to enlarge

On Sunday, May 22, a devastating tornado hit the city of Joplin, Mo., leaving an estimated 116 people dead and several hundred others injured. This tied the June 8, 1953, tornado that hit Flint, Mich., as the deadliest single tornado to strike the U.S. since modern tornado recordkeeping began in 1950.

  • The deadliest tornado on record was on March 18, 1925.  This “Tri-State Tornado” (MO, IL, IN) had a 291-mile path, was rated F5 based on a historic assessment, and caused 695 fatalities.
  • Preliminary rating:  Powerful EF-4 tornado with winds from 190-198 mph. Tornado was ¾ of a mile wide.  A final determination on strength will be available Tuesday, May 24, after our Springfield Weather Forecast Office completes the storm survey.

National Weather Service’s (NWS) preliminary estimate is more than 100 tornadoes have occurred during the month of May 2011. The record number of tornadoes during the month of May was 542 tornadoes set in May 2003.

  • Deadliest Tornado Years in US History

    (Official NOAA-NWS Record: 1950 – present; Research by Grazulis: 1875-1949)

    Year Fatalities
    1925 794
    1936 552
    1917 551
    1927 540
    1896 537
    1953 519
    1920 499
    1908 477
    2011 481
    (365 + 116 estimated Joplin fatalities as of

    May 23)

    1909 404
    1932 394
    1942 384
    1924 376
    1974 366
    1933 36

    The average number of tornadoes for the month of May during the past decade is 298. May is historically the most active month for tornadoes.

2011 Year-to-Date (and record annual) Statistics

  • NWS’s preliminary estimate is that there have been approximately 1,000 tornadoes so far this year.
  • The previous yearly record number of tornadoes was set in 2004 with 1,817.
  • The overall yearly average number of tornadoes for the past decade is 1,274.
  • The preliminary estimated number of tornado fatalities so far this year is 481.  NWS records indicate that there were 365 tornado fatalities before the Joplin tornado.  Media reports currently indicate 89 fatalities in the Joplin event.
  • The US tornado death toll is the highest ever through the month of May in the NOAA-NWS official record (1950-present).
  • The highest recorded annual death toll from tornadoes in the NOAA-NWS official record (1950-present) was set in 1953 with 519 fatalities.

April 2011

  • April 2011 set a new record for the month with 875 tornadoes.
  • The previous record was set in April 1974 with 267 tornadoes.
  • The average number of tornadoes for the month of April during the past decade is 161.
  • The previous record number of tornadoes during any month was 542 tornadoes set in May 2003.
  • NWS records indicate 321 people were killed during the April 25-28 tornado outbreak.
  • NWS records indicate 361 people were killed during the entire month of April 2011.
  • April 25-28 Preliminary Tornado Tracks Map (Based on NWS Storm Survey Findings)

Deadliest Single Tornadoes in NOAA-NWS Official Record

(1950 – present)

Tornado Fatalities Date
Flint, Michigan 116 June 8, 1953
Joplin, Missouri 116 (est.) May 22, 2011
Waco, Texas 114 May 11, 1953
Worcester, Massachusetts 90 June 9, 1953
Udall, Kansas 80 May 25, 1955
Hackleburg, Alabama 78 April 27, 2011
Tuscaloosa-Birmingham, Alabama 61 April 27, 2011
“Candlestick Park,” Mississippi & Alabama 58 March 3, 1966
Cary, Mississippi 58 February 21, 1971
Judsonia, Arkansas 50 February 21, 1952

Also…

Single Day Tornado Fatalities

Single Day Outbreak Number of Fatalities Records:  Source: Grazulis for pre-1950, NOAA/NWS data for post-1950

Date Eyewitness Reports
March 18, 1925 747
March 21, 1932 332
May 17, 1840 317
April 27, 2011 314 (NOAA data)
April 3, 1974 310 (NOAA data – US only)
May 27, 1896 305
April 11, 1965 260 (NOAA data)
April 5, 1936 249
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29 thoughts on “Tornado season update

  1. The Warmists are having a field day. The latest being the assertion that tornadoes are impacting urban areas because of global warming. Of course absolutely nothing about being urban or citified means much to tornado creation or velocity. And someone really needs to explain to the public that unseasonably cooler than usual conditions in the upper atmosphere are necessary for tornado formation. instead the MSM weathermen are absolutely complicit in the implication of AGW.

  2. I ain’t no Albert Einstein, but even I know that the worst severe thunderstorms occur when you mix cold air with warm air. Living in the southeastern US, you learn this lesson real quick. Hot humid air + cold front = thunderstorms. Meteorologists know why. Global warming would mean less tornadoes, not more because there is less cold air. Less cold air means less cold fronts. Am I wrong? Why is tornado season always in the spring and autumn when there is the transition between hot and cold?
    There has more snow than usual this winter. Snow makes the nights colder which means more cold air exist. I ain’t no Albert Einstein, but even I know this. Why don’t warmistas? Probably because they ignore anything contrary to the belief.
    How many tornadoes existed before there was radar and spotters? To compare more accurate records with less accurate ones and say there is a trend is misleading.

  3. It would be more accurate and informative to count reported tornado’s over time as opposed to number of deaths as population as increased and the reported methods have improved . . . . I would assert that there were many tornadoes that have occurred in the past that were never reported . . . When I was young, a circular form up of this kind over land was simply called a “Dust Devil” . . . .

  4. The latest being the assertion that tornadoes are impacting urban areas because of global warming. Of course absolutely nothing about being urban or citified means much to tornado creation or velocity
    The climate folks are riddled with poor implementation of spatial statistics; from sensor siting and sampling, to gridding, to historical land use controls, to continental configuration, etc. – and now they don’t understand a relatively simple PoI problem.

  5. I wonder what a fatalities versus population graph would look like? With increasing population, the relative decrease in fatalities probably shows enhanced detection and warning effects.

  6. NOAA’s Storm Prediction Center tornado data shows that during the last 5 complete years (2006 through 2010) only 2008 had an above average number of tornadoes. The climate fear alarmists that are falsely claiming that global warming is driving the high number of tornadoes in 2011 are simply opportunists trying to drum up support for their flawed cause. Why were these alarmists silent during 2006, 2007, 2009 and 2010 regarding the low number of tornadoes in those years?
    Equally absurd are alarmists claims that the failure of the U.S. Congress to enact greenhouse gas restrictions contributes to extreme weather events here.
    The U.S. greenhouse gas emissions in 2009 are at a 15 year low going all the way back to 1995 levels and have been sharply declining since 2007. Meanwhile China’s 2009 greenhouse gas emissions are 42% greater than those of the U.S. and climbing at an annual rate greater than 500 million metric tons per year. Even the EU has increased greenhouse gas emissions with their 2010 totals up about 3.4% despite billion of Euros in carbon taxes.
    The hallmarks of climate fear science include deceit, deception, hidden data and analysis (from research largely funded by taxes), failure to comply with FOIA requests for information precluding independent verification of claims, government funded peer review scientists who block hundreds of papers from being published because their authors refuse to bow to climate fear orthodoxy, media exaggeration of scientifically unsupportable conjecture by alarmists (like global warming driving increased tornadoes) and on and on.
    With this fine tradition of hallmarks there is virtually no limit to the underhanded schemes that climate fear science will not resort to in seeking to impose its vastly flawed orthodoxy on society.

  7. I’m a licensed amateur radio operator. About 20 years ago, when I lived in Amarillo, I used to participate in the local storm chasers network. I’m no tornado expert, but I’ve seen several and experienced a few, one was pretty close up and personal. In every case that I can remember there was always a sharp contrast between a very cold air mass and a warm, wet air mass. I’ve always understood this to be the “fuel” or the conditions necessary to spawn tornadoes. That sudden drop in ambient temperature was always a cue to seek shelter.
    One of my most vivid memories was working out in my garden one fine day in May 1994. I was listening to my handheld dual band radio clipped to my pocket when I heard the warnings and the call for the net to be activated. I started heading for the house when the cold storm front hit. The temp dropped from the high 80s to the low 60s in about 5 minutes or less. That was the first time I had ever experienced baseball sized hail. I hid out in the back of the house which was essentially underground. The tornado hit about a quarter mile to the east of me. I felt guilty because I didn’t have time to bring the horse in. When the hail ended and the sun came out I went outside. The horse found her way into the stable and was wild eyed and sweating. I had a few broken windows. My lush garden looked like it had been sent through a blender. It cost $14K for a new cedar shake roof. You could walk around in the days following and see dead birds, dead lizards and dead snakes…even a dead jack rabbit…beaten to death by the hail.
    But as near as I recall, the hot weather was never a problem. It was when it interacted with upper level cold air. To me, AGW doesn’t explain this. Dr. Roy Spencer (who very recently had his own up close and personal experience with tornadoes) explains this quite nicely on his site. How stupid to people have to be to think every extreme weather event is proof of global warming?

  8. Having grown up in Oklahoma I was right in the middle of the 1974 out-break. It was a wild season, but ultimately my area was not damaged. Then in May 1999 the most powerful tornado ever recorded (at least to my knowledge) took out a swath including my Mother’s house. The devastation was just unimaginable. Entire blocks of houses were swept clean to the cement foundation. How so few died I have never understood. Unless you have been in the area of a powerful tornado you just cannot imagine the aftermath.
    There are only three ways I can think of to measure tornado intensity over time that includes pre-dopler radar periods. You can count the number that appear, you can measure the damage, or you can count how many are killed. All three suffer from distortions: We can count tornados now much easier due to doppler radar and storm chasers. Damage has gone up becuase there are more people and more stuff to damage. Death rates are affected in two ways – there are more people affected, but they have better warning and in some cases better shelter. So there is no good way (I am aware of) to study either the frequency or intensity of tornadoes over time that predate the use of doppler radar. All you can do is measure the amount of damage and try to extrapolate from that.
    My personal opinion: Bad tornado seasons come and go – I have not noticed they are any worse or better – they just are. If you want to do something useful about them, build yourself a good solid tornado shelter because no amount of reducing CO2 is going to help you.

  9. When one considers that there may have been even more of these powerful storms in the past but were not recorded nor caused any damage as they occurred where, at that time, there were no people to report them, buildings to destroy, or instruments to monitor them, it is difficult to compare historical data. But, is anyone really surprised that these events would be blamed on AGW? Everything is blamed on AGW.

  10. Laurie Bowen @ 10:06 am:
    . . . When I was young, a circular form up of this kind over land was simply called a “Dust Devil” . . . .

    I don’t know when you were young or where, but when I was young (1950’s in Arizona and Oklahoma), “dust devils” (whirlwinds) rose up under generally clear skies and relatively calm winds. We used to chase them down to play in them, unpleasant though it was with your eyes and nose full of dirt and sand.
    A tornado is a completely different thing under highly different weather conditions. Also which I have observed a number of times, but so far avoided contact.
    OK S.

  11. That is a great satellite image. You can see the result of the cold air mass pushing under the warm air mass, lifting the warm air into the colder air aloft and creating the larger cloud cover, but also the thicker part of the cold air mass trails the leading edge and lifts the warm air even farther. This you see at the western edge of the clouds, where the storm heads are.
    Notice that there is a gap in the clouds – presumably an area between “mounds” of cold air. It isn’t just on monolithic, flat front. And notice that Joplin is at the southern end of the clouds (lifted warm air) in that northern warm air mass.
    I’ve had a hypothesis for many years (that I’ve never seen be wrong*) that the tornadoes form at the southern edge of the intruding cold air mass – literally on the down-slope of the mound of cold air. This sloping edge is not only lifting the warm air, but also giving it a horizontal push, too – which is what I believe is what begins the rotation. Meteorologists’ working hypothesis is that the air is only lifted, and that the rotation begins from this alone. I am likely wrong, but I see the rotation being begun by the side of the cold air bulge. Think of putting spin on a ping pong ball – you can give all the top spin you want, but until you give it some side spin, it doesn’t curve, just sinks.
    * The tornadoes always seem to form on that southern “trailing” edge, at the “comma”. But the comma is just the visible water vapor in that sloping edge, and the lower aspects of that slope don’t lift as far, so the visual evidence is the trail that we see as a comma. When cold air masses and warm air masses meet, it isn’t just a 2D thing, but a 3D one, and the rotation comes from forces in that 3rd degree.
    At least, that is how I visualize it.

  12. When I was in graduate school (1980s), one of the tornado disaster scenarios that was frequently mentioned was a F4 or F5 tornado moving through the Dallas/Fort Worth area during rush hour. With tens of thousands of individuals in grid-lock on the freeways with no shelter available, it was theorized that hundreds of individuals could die in such an event.
    At the time it opened my eyes to the possibility of a mega-tornado disaster in an urban setting. If memory serves, a made for TV movie or documentary of such a scenario was made a few years after I graduated.
    Then, on May 3, 1999 a large tornado(s) ripped through portions of Oklahoma City clearly demonstrating that such a disaster was more likely than many imagined.
    Large tornadoes (EF-4 and 5s) are always rare, plus the odds of one striking a densely populated area is always low, but this tornado season has sadly reminded us that as urban centers expand, so do the odds of additional tragedies occurring in the future.

  13. In addition to cold dry air and warm moist air, another ingredient for tornado formation is relatively flat terrain. Tornadoes are rare in the mountainous regions of the west.

  14. 1979 – Wichita Falls Texas – It took out virtually the entire town core. Except for our store (the chain I was working for at the time). I remember a picture that made the paper. That was also the year of TMI – and the sign said “Hey PA, we will trade you your reactor for our tornado!”.
    Every year brings news of new tragedies – but the spirit of people just will not be held down!

  15. Our forecasting, communication and warning systems are certainly better now and this should lead to fewer deaths. On the other hand the population is 4, almost 5 times higher now than in early 1900’s.

  16. noaaprogrammer- back in 1974, I witnessed a Tornado in NE Oregon. I was a
    NOAA Certified weather observer for the local Airline. Only one other witness ,
    an FAA Fight Service Station operator in Baker, Oregon. I was at La Grande.
    We get an occasional Tornado here due to the flat broad valley, ironically the local wind farm is placed exactly in the most Tornado prone area…..

  17. Late season Pacific Coast unseasonable cold pools = havoc in the S. Plains. Full stop.

  18. feet2thefire says:
    I’ve had a hypothesis for many years (that I’ve never seen be wrong*) that the tornadoes form at the southern edge of the intruding cold air mass – literally on the down-slope of the mound of cold air.
    The local weather crew here in NC recently explained tornado formation in a way not too far off of what you said.

  19. Since I was curious, I looked and found these:
    http://www.spc.noaa.gov/publications/schaefer/el_nino.htm
    http://www.coaps.fsu.edu/papers/impacts_enso_tornadic_activity/
    http://www.wvdhsem.gov/WV_Disaster_Library/Library/Tornadoes/El%20Nino%20Tornados%20predictability.htm
    Intuitively, I believe there should be a connection, but as pointed out in the first article listed there is simply not enough data to confirm or deny the connection.
    I think this is also the problem with AGW, at this point we simply do not have enough reliable information to draw firm conclusions. I would really like to see, at the minimum, 30 years of additional data before we start turning the economy of the world upside down.
    Roy

  20. Robert of Texas says:
    May 24, 2011 at 10:26 am
    Having grown up in Oklahoma I was right in the middle of the 1974 out-break. It was a wild season, but ultimately my area was not damaged.
    ================
    Robert, the super-outbreak of 1974 had NOTHING to do WHATSOEVER in Oklahoma or Texas at that time.
    Notwithstanding the terrible and horrific tornados that have occurred in Texas and Oklahoma at other times, such as 1999, but also many other years….regardless…you absolutely were NOT in the “middle” of the 1974 super-outbreak.
    Chris
    Norfolk, VA, USA

  21. @TonyG says May 24, 2011 at 1:33 pm:

    The local weather crew here in NC recently explained tornado formation in a way not too far off of what you said.

    Thanks, Tony. I’d be interested to see what they said. Any links? I’d like to understand them better, and if they have figured something out, I tip my hat to them. I’m pretty sure it is a contributing factor, even if it isn’t the whole banana (though I could be wrong). But whatever they are thinking, I’d like to read about it.

  22. It is such a tragedy with all these current tornadoes which were whirling round our country. I pray to God to provide peace to all of the victims and assist them by means of this trying time.

  23. Feet2theFire says:
    Thanks, Tony. I’d be interested to see what they said. Any links? I’d like to understand them better, and if they have figured something out, I tip my hat to them. I’m pretty sure it is a contributing factor, even if it isn’t the whole banana (though I could be wrong). But whatever they are thinking, I’d like to read about it.
    It was something I saw in the middle of the weather coverage, so I can’t really like to that – but maybe there’s something here: http://www.wral.com/weather/flash/4819606/

  24. Hey guys, I live in Joplin and it is a mess here. BTW, they have updated their initial accessment and have determined that the tornado that tore through here was an F5. My home is fine buy my mother’s is entirely destroyed, her house was directly in the path of this beast. She’s now living at my house for the time being. I know lots of people who lost everything, their homes, their vehicles, and their jobs. It’s going to be years before we can get this town back to some sense of normalcy.

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