Tornado touchdowns in our region have increased at an alarming rate over the last several years. Despite only a small percentage increase in the number of tornadoes in the United States during the past five years, those numbers are drastically higher in our region. This data coincides with a study that postulates that “Tornado Alley” is beginning to shift to the south and east of its notorious Plains region. Let’s take a look at tornado touchdowns in our region, as well as overall across the country.
|LOCATION||AVG. TORNADOES (1981-2010)||AVG. TORNADOES (2014-2018)||CHANGE|
|UNITED STATES||1122||1210.2||+ 7.86%|
|WEST VIRGINIA||2||4.2||+ 110%|
This increase was derived by examining the average number of tornadoes from 1981 to 2010, and then comparing this value to the average number of tornadoes over the past five years in our region. West Virginia’s percentage increase will obviously be more pronounced, since the state only averages two tornadoes per year, and subtle changes will cause that percentage to increase or decrease abruptly.
Over the last five years, the United States has averaged approximately 90 more tornadoes than during the span of 1981-2010. West Virginia is averaging approximately two more tornadoes, Ohio is averaging almost seven more tornadoes, and Kentucky is averaging around thirteen more tornadoes. A national view as well as a state-by-state look at the number of tornadoes in each state in our region is shown below.
This study’s new tornado average values was determined for data over the last five years, but Kentucky actually had the most tornadoes the Bluegrass State has had this millenium in 2012 (65 tornado touchdowns), which was nearly four times its average, and Ohio had twice its average number of tornadoes in 2011 (34 tornado touchdowns).
CBS News focused on this study of more tornadoes south and east of the traditional “Tornado Alley”. The study from the Nature Partner Journal’s Climate and Atmospheric Science, was conducted by two severe-weather researchers, Harold Brooks of NOAA’s National Severe Storms Laboratory in Oklahoma and Dr. Victor Gensini of Northern Illinois University, who noted “significant increasing trends (of tornadoes) in portions of Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas, Missouri and Illinois”, and in general focuses on the potential for more tornadoes in a more vulnerable area – a much more densely populated area that is the southeastern United States – which could be a recipe for disaster.
A recent study by Columbia University proclaims the movement of the so called “100th meridian” (100 degrees longitude) eastward over the past 100 years. This is the general longitude in the central part of the United States where moist air is met with dry air from the Rockies (these two polarizing air masses constitute a wide variety of severe weather in the plains) and is now pushing east according to the study.
Back in our region, the only tornadoes that touched down within our viewing area in 2018 were in southern Ohio. One tornado occurred in Jackson County, Ohio at the Jackson County Airport, which was rated as an EF-0 tornado. The other tornado touched down in Athens County between Carbondale and Nelsonville near Connett on October 28th, which also resulted in an EF-0 tornado.
In general, 2018 was a relatively quiet year both locally and nationally. In fact, 2018 was the first year that a violent tornado was not reported during a year in our country since modern methods of recording began in 1950. This means that no EF-4 or EF-5 tornadoes touched down in the United States. However, only eight of the nineteens years constituting the new millenium have provided below average tornado years for the United States, and of those eight years, four of those years were fifty tornadoes or less from the average. Meanwhile, five years saw more four hundred or more tornadoes than average touch down in the U.S. (2004, 2008, 2010, 2011, and 2017).
Also, two of the top three costliest tornadoes in U.S. history have occurred farther south and east than the traditional “Tornado Alley”. All three of the top three costliest tornadoes have occurred in this decade, even with adjusted inflation values. You can check out the full list from the Storm Prediction Center.
Costliest Tornadoes Since 1950 (Inflation Adjusted)
- Joplin, MO Tornado (5/22/11) : $2,921,780,000
- Tuscaloosa, AL Tornado (4/27/11): $2,556,550,000
- Moore, OK Tornado (5/20/13): $2,086,980,000
There is still a wide range of theories to dictate why more tornadoes are touching down – from more precipitation as a result of warmer temperatures, to natural cycles, and to changes in meteorological setups over times, like the 100th meridian mentioned above. However, one thing is for certain – there ARE more tornadoes touching down and more in the southeast, as well as our region.
With more technology being utilized here at the StormTracker 13 Weather Lab than ever before, we have never been able to provide storm analysis on air and online better than now! The StormTracker 13 Weather App is completely free to download on iTunes and on Google Play, and of course, check out Meteorologists Spencer Adkins, Bryan Hughes, and myself on the television!