We’ve seen a near-record low number of tornadoes so far this year. Here’s why.


June is typically the most tornado-active month across the state of Ohio.

Severe weather season got off to a quick start this year, with the first tornado touching down on Feb. 25th in Brown County. But despite the stormy weather in February and March, severe weather mostly disappeared in April, thanks to the return of a winter-like pattern across the eastern half of the country.

Even more unusual this year was the near total lack of severe weather across an area of the United States known as “Tornado Alley.” Not a single tornado touched down until early May in the Central and Northern Plains. In fact, Oklahoma set a record for the longest streak without a tornado.

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The tornado count began ticking up with the return of much warmer weather in May and June, but the number of tornadoes nationwide in 2018 is running well below average, nearing a record low count.

So far in 2018, there have been 382 tornado touchdowns. Typically, by this time of year, that count is nearly doubled.

So, why the lack of tornadoes this year? Simply put, the atmospheric set-up across much of the country in early spring was not great for the formation of the severe thunderstorms needed for tornadoes.

These thunderstorms generally need an unstable atmosphere to allow air to rise easily. Also, a sufficient amount of moisture to provide energy for the developing storms is necessary. And finally, they need something to force the air to rise in the first place, like a cold or warm front.

These ingredients were hard to find in April as below-average temperatures hung over much of the central and eastern United States, decreasing any chance for severe weather. The one area where warm, moisture-filled air was plentiful was the Gulf Coast, tapping into the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Subsequently, the focus of severe weather shifted east, leaving the normally increasingly active tornado season across Great Plains dormant until May.

Interestingly, while Ohio did get a lull in severe storms through April, the tornado count for the state is actually running close to average for this time of year.

Typically, Ohio sees an average of 19 tornadoes annually. So far in 2018, Ohio has had 11 reported tornado touchdowns as of June 10. If the trend holds, Ohio may still wind up with an above-average severe weather season even despite the relative calm weather across the nation.

An unknown factor right now for the rest of the year is how tropical weather will impact the nation as a whole.

Tropical storms and hurricanes, while devastating in their own way, can also produce numerous tornadoes. Depending on how this hurricane season shapes up, we could see a dramatic jump in the national tornado count over the coming months.

Time will tell, but for now, many people are enjoying not dealing with the typical number of days each year under a threat of tornadoes. But now is certainly not the time to let your guard down for severe weather with the long-range outlook calling for an active summer.



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