The 2019 US tornado season included an ‘extraordinary’ occurrence
Updated Dec. 13, 2019 10:33 AM
A pair of unforgettable tornadoes bookended the 2019 U.S. tornado season, which is effectively over; the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has no reports of tornadoes so far in December. The U.S. tornado season typically runs from March through November or sometimes into early December, although tornadoes can occur at any time.
The year’s deadliest event was an EF4 tornado that killed 23 people in Lee County, Alabama, in early March. Tornadoes and their destruction killed a total of 38 people in the U.S. this year.
Last year, the U.S. set a record low for the number of fatalities with just 10 people killed, the lowest number since tornado fatality record-keeping began in 1875. The previous record low total was 12 in 1910. Tornadoes cause an average of 80 U.S. fatalities annually.
However, one of the costliest tornado outbreaks in Texas history, amazingly, resulted in no deaths when it struck north Dallas on October 20 and 21. AccuWeather estimates the total damage and economic loss from that severe outbreak of 10 tornadoes – including an EF3 – will approach $4 billion.
“The tornado outbreak this past October was extraordinary in the sense that, thankfully, nobody was killed,” said AccuWeather Founder and CEO Dr. Joel N. Myers. “Nobody – not one person! That’s the story – the amazing progress that has been made in weather forecasting accuracy over the last 50 or more years and our ability to get life-saving warnings to people in advance so they can take action and get out of harm’s way certainly paid off in this case.”
In between the events in Alabama and Texas, 556 tornadoes occurred nationally in May, unofficially breaking the record for the month of 542 set in 2003, though the monthly total has yet to be confirmed. The 25-year average for May is 269 tornadoes.
AccuWeather’s 2019 forecast released in February accurately pinpointed the areas to be hit hardest this year, with a higher frequency of severe weather risks in the traditional Tornado Alley — notably Oklahoma, Kansas and parts of Texas – which is more than they had experienced on average the previous three years.
“People were starting to question whether Tornado Alley should be shifted farther east, but our forecast accurately called for more events in the traditional area this year,” said AccuWeather Lead Long-Range Meteorologist Paul Pastelok.
Texas, with 188 tornadoes, has experienced the most of any state in the U.S., according to preliminary, unconfirmed data from NOAA. Kansas is second with 127, while Oklahoma and Mississippi are tied for third with 98.
“We are trying to prepare people in advance where disruptive weather can occur more frequently throughout the season and impact their safety, work or everyday plans,” Pastelok said. “We work to save as many lives as possible and to give people, companies, those in emergency services and others as much advance notice as possible to prepare and to take action.”
NOAA’s preliminary reports show there have been 1,603 tornadoes in 2019, but that total is not a confirmed final number. The inflation-adjusted annual tornado running total – which attempts to remove overcount by multiplying the preliminary total by 0.85 – is 1,363, according to NOAA.
There were 1,169 tornadoes in 2018, and the 25-year average is 1,199 tornadoes a year, according to NOAA’s Storm Prediction Center. AccuWeather’s forecast in February for 2019 estimated an increase of roughly 20 percent over the 25-year average.
Tornado-related fatalities have been trending downward despite more people living in tornado-prone areas. The reasons for this trend include advances in weather science and technology, the increasing accuracy and speed of processing warnings and the effectiveness of warning methods such as through mobile apps, as well as better cooperation between government weather services and the American weather industry that includes AccuWeather.
AccuWeather is a proud and early partner of NOAA’s WeatherReady Nation resiliency program, which helps to continue this trend, and the company is proud to get these lifesaving warnings out to the public rapidly and accurately through its apps and website.
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