Tracking Tornadoes in West Virginia, Ohio, and Kentucky

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CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WOWK) — It’s been a wild week of weather across the region, which has featured damaging winds, near-record hailstones, and tornadoes out in Ohio! 

Tornadoes are more common in our region than you might think! In fact, West Virginia averages two tornadoes annually, Ohio averages nineteen tornadoes annually, and Kentucky averages twenty-one tornadoes per year! 

Here is a break-down of the number of tornadoes in West Virginia, Ohio, and Kentucky by year since the new millennium began (2000 to 2018):

West Virginia has seen as many as six tornadoes in a single calendar year in 2014 and 2016, Kentucky saw sixty-five tornadoes in 2012, and Ohio was impacted by forty-five tornadoes in 2010.

One common argument I hear is the Appalachian Mountains prevent tornadoes from occurring in West Virginia. While it is true that the mountains certainly help with dropping the total numbers for the Mountain State, tornadoes still happen.

Forty-three tornadoes have been reported in West Virginia since 2000, and the 15th deadliest tornado in the history of the United States took place in Shinnston (Harrison County) on June 23rd, 1944 when 100 people were killed by a monstrous EF-4 tornado. In addition, we have seen significant tornadoes in West Liberty, Kentucky that killed several people back on March 2nd, 2012.

Our region generally averages one to two tornado watches per year. These are issued when conditions are favorable for the development of tornadoes. As you can see in the graphic below, the most common areas for tornado watches to be issued are in the Gulf Coast regions of Mississippi and Alabama, as well as the Oklahoma/Texas border. In each of these spots, as many as an average of one to two dozen tornado watches are issued each year.

Ever wonder which states see the most tornadoes? If you guessed Texas, you would be correct! The top five states in our country that see the most tornadoes are 1) Texas (140), 2) Kansas (80), 3) Florida (59), 4) Oklahoma (56), 5) Nebraska (54). No other states aside from Rhode Island, Vermont, New Hampshure, and Massachusetts receive less tornadoes on average than West Virginia.

Over the last thirty years, West Virginia has averaged two tornadoes, Ohio nineteen, and Kentucky twenty-one, however, those numbers are slightly higher between 2000 and 2018. During that time frame, West Virginia has averaged 2.3 tornadoes, Ohio has averaged 22.2 tornadoes, and Kentucky has averaged 30.2 (nearly a 40 percent increase). This means that we should be more aware of tornado watches and warnings than ever before! 

Tornado Watches and Warnings

The following is some helpful information on what a tornado watch and warning means, as well as the differences between the two. For more information on watches and warnings, I suggest checking out this list prepared by the National Weather Service here.

A tornado watch is issued when severe thunderstorms and tornadoes are possible in an area designated (usually in a large red-squared polygon). It does not mean that they will occur, it only means they are possible. 

Severe thunderstorms are defined with the following characteristics:

  • Winds of 58 mph or higher
  • Hail 1 inch in diameter or larger.

Note that a severe thunderstorm doesn’t have to have each of the above characteristics, but it has to meet one of them.

A tornado warning is issued when a tornado is imminent. When a tornado warning is issued, seek safe shelter immediately, as it means that a storm capable of producing a tornado is nearby.

Think of a tornado watch as “it could happen”, and a tornado warning as “it should happen”.

I hope this helps in the future when you see the StormTracker 13 team mentioning the possibilities of tornadoes in our region! 

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