WRAL WeatherCenter Blog

Here's hoping for a slow finish tornado season

Posted May 19, 2014

While I’m not a terribly superstitious person, writing the next sentence has me searching for some wood to knock on. For the third year in a row, tornado season has gotten off to a slow start.

Don’t worry – I knocked!

No doubt about it: We have certainly had some bouts of severe weather this year. Most recently, the Raleigh National Weather Service confirmed that an EF-1 tornado struck 3 miles southwest of Durham on Thursday, May 15.

But start thinking back to 2011, and more more specifically, April 16. If you were in the area, you know where I’m going. Thirty tornadoes touched down in North Carolina, the greatest one-day total for NC on record. It was a scary day for many North Carolinians. And sadly, 24 people lost their lives.

A total of 1,691 tornadoes was reported during the 2011 season nationwide, the second-highest on record.

So, another sluggish start to tornado season for the third straight year after such an active season in 2011 leaves scientists scratching their heads and
trying to decipher what gives? Why are some years more active than others? Could climate change be playing a role? Some studies have found that severe storms are likely to increase as the country warms, at least in the eastern U.S., along with the possibility of more days supportive of tornadic storms.

However, research has also found that wind shear (a key ingredient for tornadoes to form) may decrease as the U.S. gets warmer. This would actually increase the stability of the atmosphere and mean fewer tornadoes.

Climate scientists and meteorologists are working very hard to get a better grasp on why we can have such big swings in tornado activity year to year. A better understanding of climate change, and all things weather-related, typically leads to improved weather models and more advanced forecasting tools (which really gets us excited!).

For now, let’s just hope we will have a slow finish to what has been a slow start to the tornado season!


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  • John Lobenstein May 21, 2014

    Has there actually been AGW or have improvements in technology and communications only amplified a perception that weather/climate have changed drastically?

  • Ex-Republican May 20, 2014

    I wish global warming wasn't so polarizing and politicized. We have Al Gore to thank for that.

  • Cleanup on Aisle Cool May 20, 2014

    Interesting that 2004 was the most active tornado season - and most active in terms of major Atlantic huricanes making landfall in the SE US (that year they ran through the entire alphabet of names). Could the Spring tornado season be used as a predictor of Atlantic hurricane activity? What is the degree of correlation? I hope some grad student studies this further.

  • redwolfone May 20, 2014

    View quoted thread

    No, I just worry that this whole thing will be used to levee another huge tax on the middle class and the money taken will not be used to solve a thing. We will still have global warming, high taxes on energy, and no solutions........

  • ckblackm May 19, 2014

    Don't worry about climate change... Faux News says there's no such thing... no worries, see?

  • redwolfone May 19, 2014

    I thought Al Gore decreed that with global warming the storms would get worse and more frequent.

  • jmcdow2792 May 19, 2014

    If climate change means fewer tornadoes then I am all for climate change. Let's go climate change! I don't like hurricanes either. And for that matter cold weather and hot weather are both bummers. How about the climate changes to 70 degrees, low humidity and sunny.

  • WralCensorsAreBias May 19, 2014

    what tornado season. the same as the hurricane season? the non-existent one?

  • hi_i_am_wade May 19, 2014

    It is real simple. Humans cannot be blamed, that is why climatologists don't understand.

    Why do strong tornadoes and strong storms usually occur in the spring or fall? Why do strong storms appear along a cold front? It is the clash of cold and warm air. A warmer world or a colder world means fewer clashes of cold/warm air, therefore less tornadoes. A world transitioning from warm to cool or cool to warm will mean more clashes. We only have accurate long-term tornado records of EF3+ tornadoes because many tornadoes went unreported before dopplar radar. The 1970's was, by far, the worst decade in recorded history for EF3 tornadoes because the earth was going from a cool phase to a warm phase. Man-made climate change has nothing to do with it. And very soon the earth will start to go back to the cool phase. Already the PDO switched to a cool phase, which has shown up in a drier California. Once the AMO goes cool, look out! Longer winters and more tornadoes.

  • elkerster May 19, 2014

    View quoted thread

    Is this context slow means not much activity. If you want a fast ending (even more activity) go for you but doubt anyone else does.