We Could be Headed for an Active Tornado Season
There’s a good chance the coming tornado season will be more active than usual.
According to CNN, the current La Niña weather pattern that was responsible for the extreme cold snap and winter storm we experienced in February is eerily similar to the La Niña of 2011.
Exactly a decade ago, a massive cold air overbreak over the central United States in February sent temperatures plummeting to record lows, leading to blackouts in Texas that left millions without power. Sounds familiar, huh?
That's not where the similarities stop. Over the course of the past few months, the La Niña pattern has mirrored the La Niña of 2010 – 2011. If the pattern continues, we could be in for an unusually active tornado season.
2011 was the deadliest tornado season in modern times. Over 550 people lost their lives during 2011 season, second only to the 1925 tornado season, which claimed 794 lives.
The months of April and May were particularly active. There were 875 confirmed tornadoes in April alone, including the Super Outbreak of 226 tornadoes on April 27, the most ever recorded on a single day. It was on that day that twisters hit Birmingham and Tuscaloosa, Alabama.
A few weeks afterward, an EF5 tornado tore through Joplin, Missouri, killing over 160 people and costing almost $3 billion in damages.
Jason Furtado, assistant professor of meteorology at the University of Oklahoma, explained how La Niña fuels storms:
The flow of warm, humid air from the Gulf of Mexico increases in strength during springs that follow La Niña, which produces the fuel needed to form storms. The stronger flow increases the low-level wind shear that also favors the formation of tornadoes and hailstorms.
Only 27 tornadoes have been reported this year, which is below normal. Reports of hail and damaging winds are down this year as well. And yes, 2011 also started with below average tornado and hail reports through March, before tornadic activity ramped up in April.
While there’s no way of predicting just how active an entire tornado season will be, it would be wise to look to history for clues as to what might be in store for us. And in that case, we better be prepared for a rough storm season.