Tornados and Tornado Warnings Across the Country

When New Yorkers heard there was a tornado warning last week, most residents reacted with more bafflement than alarm. A tornado in New York? It’s hard to imagine a twister wending its way through skyscrapers. And yet there has been a spate of recent tornadoes that have ripped across the country and done immeasurable damage. Alarm is warranted in the face of weather like that.

In fact, right around the same time as the largely ignored New York tornado warning, Massachusetts was being hit by three separate tornadoes. According to an article on Yahoo! News, three people died and there was over $90 million in damages. And while Tornadohistoryproject.com lists 152 tornadoes in Massachusetts between 1951 and 2008, Massachusetts is not considered part of tornado alley. There were none listed in the state for 2009 or 2010 and relatively few fatalities are listed even from what twisters there were. In fact, tornadohistoryproject.com attributes 90 of the 102 tornado deaths in the state to a single June 1953 tornado.

And the latest June Massachusetts twister is not the only major hit the country has taken from tornadoes this year. It’s not even the worst, not by a long shot. Major storms have hit Tennessee, Virginia, North Carolina, Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, Arkansas and Kansas. Missouri on May 28th experienced the deadliest tornado since official records started being kept in 1950. A CBS News story has the death toll at 142.

In general, despite it seeming that the year has been one tornado tragedy after another, 2011 did not start off with a higher than normal number of storms at all. It didn’t really get bad until April. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration – which tracks tornadoes and hurricanes – has a preliminary count of 875 tornadoes for that month alone, almost five times the three year average of 185.

Aside from April, every other month so far this year has been either well below the three year tornado average or not too far above it. Even May, which had a preliminary count of 370 tornadoes countrywide, wasn’t much above the 322 average reported by NOAA. But whatever the numbers, the death toll has been enormous. NOAA has 2011 listed as the 7th most deadly year in U.S. history for tornado deaths with an estimated 512, and it’s only June. April 27th was the fourth most deadly day.

So far, a News24 story has tornado damages at an estimated $7 billion. President Obama has toured damaged towns and the country has joined the mourning. So while New Yorkers escaped last week, many others have not. And next time there’s a tornado warning, we should all take it seriously.