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Tornado Season Starts – Another Active One?

By Joe D'Aleo
Monday, March 2, 2009

Tornadoes have been in the news in recent weeks in places like Oklahoma and Georgia. They mark the start of the spring severe weather season.


This year should again be more active than recent decades, given less snowcover in the north and a weaker La Nina, the number of storms is likely to fall short of 2008.

Last year had a jump in the number of tornadoes thanks to the strong La Nina of the winter and early spring. La Ninas produce a stronger contrast from north to south feeding spring storms and severe weather. Heavy record snows last year maintained the cold north and strong contrast and led to enhanced activity and flooding. A preliminary count of 1690 storms will be reduced when final analysis in storm reports is completed as some storms are counted multiple times.

In the following NSSL analysis you can see the early season activity last year and again this year characteristic of La Ninas. Las year June was especially active as the storms fed off the contrast and wet grounds from snowmelt and heavy winter and early spring precipitation.

Severe Weather Summaries

2009 Severe Weather Summary

2008 Severe Weather Summary

2007 Severe Weather Summary

2006 Severe Weather Summary

2005 Severe Weather Summary

2004 Severe Weather Summary

2003 Severe Weather Summary

2002 Severe Weather Summary

2001 Severe Weather Summary

2000 Severe Weather Summary


The march of the season – climatology of tornadoes normally follows this depiction (source here)

Some of the monthly data shows this tendency for an early season peak in the south and later in the north as the jet stream lifts northwards.

We don’t yet have a number of strong tornadoes (F3+) for 2008  but there was likely  a spike in those much as there was in the strong cold PDO La Ninas of the 1950s to 1970s most notably 1973/74.

Strong tornadoes are mainly found east of the Rockies.

Every state but Alaska has a statistically measurable probability of tornadoes.

More on tornados in weeks ahead.


Storm Prediction Center


The Online Tornado FAQat SPC


SPC Tornado Safety page


Enhanced Fujita Tornado Scale


Fujita Tornado Scalewith photo examples from the Tornado FAQ


SPC lists of deadliest U.S. tornadoes, F5 tornadoes since 1950, tornadoes hitting major downtowns, and websites devoted to historical tornadoes


Tornado Odditiesand Tornado Mythsdiscussed by Tom Grazulis


A page dedicated to the 50th Anniversary of Tornado Forecasting


Questions and Answers about Thunderstormsby NSSL