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US may hit hundreds of tornadoes this year: meteorologists alarmed

A massive cold outbreak in the central United States in early February set hundreds of low temperature records. It brought down the Texas power grid and left millions of people without electricity. Sounds familiar? It was 2011 when the La Niña stream and active jet stream generated a scenario almost identical to what we experienced in 2021. Read more about this CNN.

Photo: Shutterstock

Weather events that followed a sharp fall in 2011 have now led meteorologists to fear surpassing normal tornado activity in the US this spring.

The strongest La Niña outbreak since the winter of 2010-2011 has been recorded in the past few months. So the question is whether this spring will be like the most expensive tornado year on record and the deadliest in nearly 100 years.

“The severe weather season is actually a combination of several short weather events, and it can trigger individual events over a long period of time,” said Sam Lillo, an atmospheric researcher at the University of Colorado at Boulder.

Deadliest tornado season in modern history

The 2011 tornado season was the deadliest of our time, with over 550 deaths. It is second only to 1925, when 794 people died from a tornado.

Almost all deaths in 2011 occurred in April and May. In April alone, there were 875 confirmed tornadoes, more than in any other month. The April 27 superflare recorded 226 tornadoes, the most ever observed in a single day, including devastating atmospheric eddies in Birmingham and Tuscaloosa, Alabama.

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Just weeks later, a large-scale EF5 tornado hit Joplin, Missouri, killing more than 160 people. It was the deadliest tornado in more than 60 years, and the most expensive atmospheric vortex on record, with nearly $ 3 billion in direct damage.

While localized and small-scale weather patterns played a role in creating these tragic days, the general large-scale weather conditions that triggered the historic 2011 tornado season are noteworthy to determine the risk for similar events this year.

“Each year has a certain potential for tornado outbreaks; just try to predict exactly where that area might be and then make sure people are prepared, ”said Bill Bunting, head of forecast operations for the National Weather Service's Storm Prediction Center (SPC).

Forecast for this spring

To paint a picture of what the weather might look like in the coming weeks or months, forecasters look at La Niña and other global climate and weather patterns such as the Arctic Oscillation.

Prediction models like these are important for seasonal temperature forecasts used in energy trading markets, as are the hurricane season forecasts published annually by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Lillo said modeling recently predicted nearly a month in advance of the Arctic outbreak that swept the central US in February this year.

“In general, projections show the formation of ridges with temperatures above normal in the south, cooler in the north and a temperature gradient that enhances the jet stream through the center of the United States,” explained Lillo.

The jet stream is the main storm stream in the mid-latitudes of the Northern Hemisphere and separates the colder air to the north and the warmer to the south.

During La Niña, there is usually a greater temperature difference between hot and humid air in the southern United States and cooler, drier air in the north. This creates a faster jet stream that can cause severe weather events.

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“A faster jet stream has all the potential for stronger storms and harsh weather,” Lillo said.

Historically, in March, the southern states of the United States are an area where severe storms, including tornadoes, are more likely to occur. Then, as the northern hemisphere begins to heat up, the tornado's crosshair will shift west to the central US and eventually north to the northern plains.

"The jet stream pattern is favorable for severe weather," Bunting emphasized. "If this pattern continues, very strong atmospheric vortices along the Gulf Coast in close proximity to warm humid air could make the Gulf Coast in the near term an area to be closely monitored."

How La Niña is associated with a tornado

As in this year, the moderate flow of La Niña was the main feature in 2011. La Niña and its counterpart, El Niño, can play a significant role in the location of the jet stream, temperature, and precipitation in the United States, which play a role in the formation of severe weather conditions.

Recent research has shown that El Niño or La Niña conditions in the winter months can be used to determine the frequency of tornadoes during the peak season of heavy storms in the spring.

“The flow of warm, humid air from the Gulf of Mexico increases during springtime,” said Jason Furtado, assistant professor of meteorology at the University of Oklahoma. "Stronger flow increases low-level wind shear, which also contributes to the formation of tornadoes and rainstorms."

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La Niña has been the strongest since 2011 in the past few months, according to the NOAA Climate Prediction Center, and this pattern is expected to continue to affect the weather over the next few months during the height of the storm season.

Time to get ready now

While severe storms occur in the United States all year round, they peak during the meteorological spring, which includes March, April, and May.

So far this year there have been only 27 tornado reports, well below normal. Over the past 15 years, an average of about 130 tornado reports have been received in the United States in the first few days of March.

But it's not just tornado reports. The reports of hail and devastating winds this year are also below average.

“There were many seasons that started off quietly, and then everything changed from exactly to the opposite,” - said Bunting.

According to the data, in 2011, at first, a small number of tornadoes were also recorded, and then, until the end of spring, their number increased sharply.

The upcoming forecast depends on where the jet stream will be in the coming weeks.

Now is the time to reconsider your plans, inquire where you can view the daily local forecast, and find out where to hide if a tornado hits you.

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