The United States could be in line for an above-normal tornado season this spring in a repeat of what happened in 2011 when a La Nina weather pattern combined with an active jet stream to create record cold temperatures during the winter before the severe storms hit, meteorologists fear.
“Severe weather season is really a collection of several short weather events, and anticipating individual events at long lead times is usually tricky,” Sam Lillo, an atmospheric researcher at the University of Colorado Boulder, told CNN.
This year’s La Nina signal was the strongest that it’s been since the winter of 2011, and if this spring also mirrors that year, there could be trouble, as 2011 ended up being the most costly and deadly on record for tornadoes in almost 100 years.
“What we can say instead is whether the probability of the ingredients coming together for these events is higher or lower than normal,” said Lillo. “This year, it is higher than normal.”
In 2011, there were 875 tornadoes in April alone, with the “Super Outbreak” on April 27 recording 226 tornadoes for the most that had ever been observed in a single day.
Almost all of the more than 550 fatalities in 2011, the most tornado deaths since 1925, took place in April and May.
A few weeks after the Super Outbreak, an EF5 tornado killed more than 160 people in Joplin, Missouri, marking the deadliest and most costly tornado on record. Nearly $3 billion was recorded in direct damages from the killer storm.
“Looking back on 2011, it was the sheer magnitude of the number of events, the fact that so many hit populated areas and, of course, the incredibly high toll in terms of deaths, injuries, and dollar damage,” said Bill Bunting, chief of forecast operations for the National Weather Service’s Storm Prediction Center (SPC).
“Every year has some potential (of tornado outbreaks); it’s just a matter of trying to accurately predict, with as much lead time as possible, where that area is likely to be and then making sure that people are prepared and have a plan,” Bunting said.
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