Weather official: Expect active tornado season ahead

03/30/2013 11:23 AM

08/06/2014 12:49 AM

It’s been such a quiet year for tornadoes so far that AccuWeather recently headlined a story “Tornado Season Delayed, Not Canceled.”

And punsters could joke that it makes sense tornado season hasn’t really gotten started, because weather patterns are in a “neutral” phase — meaning the Northern Hemisphere is neither in an El Nino nor a La Nina weather pattern.

“It certainly hasn’t been a terribly active tornado period anywhere in the U.S. during the last three months,” Jon Davies, a respected weather researcher and storm chaser, said in an e-mail response to questions.

But weather officials say 2013 figures to be much more active for tornadoes than last year, which was among the quietest on record.

“It looks like a normal Kansas spring for us,” Suzanne Fortin, meteorologist in charge of the Wichita branch of the National Weather Service, told a gathering of fire chiefs and emergency managers last week. “It looks like we’re going to have several Kansas tornadoes.”

In fact, several of the strongest tornadoes to hit Kansas in the past quarter-century occurred during “neutral” phases, when the equatorial waters of the Pacific were neither warmer nor colder than normal.

• Hesston, March 13, 1990
• Haysville/Wichita/Andover, April 26, 1991
• Hoisington, April 21, 2001
• Greensburg, May 4, 2007

Fortin cautioned against any complacency and urged emergency managers to train their spotters to offer concise, detailed storm reports when severe weather is occurring.

“Wichita is tornado central,” she reminded them.

Last year offered fresh evidence that Kansas is in the heart of Tornado Alley. There were 94 tornadoes in the Sunflower State, with one person killed and 50 others injured.

Tornadoes touched down on 13 days, including 43 on April 14 alone. Only one day has produced more: May 23, 2008, when 70 tornadoes raked the state.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Prediction Center is forecasting a warmer-than-normal spring for Wichita and southeast Kansas, with precipitation levels slightly above normal.

“That’s good news — we really do need the water,” Fortin said.

But those ingredients are just what supercell thunderstorms thrive on, so severe weather promises to be on the menu.

AccuWeather officials are predicting the bulk of the tornado activity in 2013 will stretch from northern Louisiana north-northeast into Ohio and Indiana.

Davies said he and other researchers haven’t found strong links between abnormal Pacific water temperatures and tornadoes.

“This stuff is hard to call,” he said. “There too many variables and too many complex inter-relationships that we just don’t understand.

“One thing’s for sure: Severe weather is going to kick in much later than last year.”

Kansas had already experienced its first tornadoes before March arrived in 2012, and the state’s only fatality occurred on Feb. 28 in Harveyville near Topeka.

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