Most Dangerous 3 Months for Tornadoes Have Begun
Last week a tornado ripped through Jonesboro, Arkansas. Twenty-two people were injured.
Last month a tornado slammed central Tennessee. It killed 24 people, injured many more and collapsed nearly 50 buildings.
Apparently the weather gods do not own a calendar. April, May and June are supposed to be the most dangerous months for tornadoes in the U.S.
But the season started early this year. As if we don't have enough problems right now with the current global pandemic.
2019 Was a Busy Tornado Season
It doesn't take a meteorologist to understand that violent weather is becoming more frequent in America. And more extreme.
In 2019, extreme weather broke more than 120,000 records here. That's according to the National Centers for Environmental Information.
Many of those records were for low and high temperatures. Some others were for amounts of rain and snow.
But 2019 also featured one of the highest counts of tornadoes. More than 1,500 were reported, making it one of the busiest tornado years ever. The average is about 1,200.
Spring an Ideal Time for Storms
Why is spring a more dangerous time for tornadoes in the U.S.? Because that's when the perfect storm of atmospheric ingredients join forces.
A tornado is most likely to occur when a storm system is propelled by a strong southward dip in the jet stream into an area where warm and humid air is flowing northward.
That jet stream provides the wind shear, or changing wind speed and direction with height. This supports the rotating of supercell thunderstorms.
From the Earth's surface up to a few thousand feet, a strong wind shear increases the likelihood those supercells will produce tornadoes.
Worst Tornadoes Often in April-June
Weather history shows that April, May and June are the worst months in America with the most potential for tornadoes. Both for the number of storms and their intensity.
More than 50 percent of tornadoes from 1999 to 2018 occurred during those months. There are an average of 272 tornadoes in May in America. That's followed by June with an average of 202 and April at 189.
The percentage of tornadoes occurring from April through June rises when only the strongest tornadoes are considered.
For example, of the 59 F5/EF5 tornadoes (wind speeds over 261 mph) occurring since 1950, 49 were in those three months.
Prepare Your Response Plan
There's no way to know if this year's tornado season will be similar or worse than last year's. But with the start we've had, it doesn't look promising.
The key is to prepare for the worst and hope for the best. Let's take a look at some ways to get ready for a rough tornado season.
First and foremost, make sure your emergency response plan is in place. Whether you are home or the office, everyone should know what to do and where to take shelter if a tornado warning is issued.
If conditions are right for a tornado to develop, a tornado watch will be issued. If a tornado warning is announced, that means a tornado has been spotted in your area. You should seek shelter immediately.
What to Do During a Tornado
Here are 5 steps to take during a tornado, according to Ready.gov.
- If you're indoors, get to a basement, storm cellar or the lowest level of a building. Stay away from windows, doors, corners of buildings and outside walls.
- If you're indoors but can't get to a lower level, find the smallest interior room or hallway as far from the exterior of the building as possible.
- If you're driving, try to head to the closest structure where you can take shelter.
- If you're driving but can't get to a shelter, get out of the car and lie face down with your hands over your head in a ditch or other lower level near the roadway but away from vehicles.
- If you're driving and you see a tornado, don't try to outrun it. Pull over immediately and seek shelter. Avoid overpasses, bridges, tall buildings and flying debris.
Once a tornado passes, you may not be out of the woods yet. Most people who suffer post-tornado injuries get hurt while trying to clean up debris. Including glass and nails.
Also keep an eye out for downed power lines, ruptured gas lines and damaged structures.
Keep These Items Handy
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends we have the following items on hand:
- A flashlight, a battery-operated National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration radio and extra batteries.
- An emergency evacuation or shelter plan, including a map of your home and routes to safety from each room.
- A list of important personal information. Including phone numbers of neighbors, family and friends, and insurance and property information. Plus phone numbers of utility companies and medical information.
- A 72-Hour supply of bottled water and non-perishable food.
- Personal hygiene items.
- Blankets or sleeping bags.
- An emergency kit in your vehicle.
- A first-aid kit.
Once you've done all that, there's one thing remaining. Practice your plan with your family.
The average time between a tornado warning and an actual tornado in your area is only a few minutes. You'll be able to make those minutes count if you're prepared.