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All quiet in Tornado Alley

This has been one of the quietest years for tornadoes in the last three decades, statistics show.

Only 75 tornadoes have touched down in the United States through Monday, according to data collected by NOAA’s Storm Prediction Center.

Only one tornado has touched down in Kansas – a weak, short-lived twister near WaKeeny last Tuesday. None have touched down in the 26 counties in southeast Kansas covered by the Wichita branch of the National Weather Service, said Chance Hayes, warning coordination meteorologist for the branch.

“It has been quiet,” Hayes said.

Only four years since 1980 have recorded fewer tornadoes through April 12 than this year, SPC numbers show:

1988 and 2002 with 68 each, and 1985 and 1987 with 72 each. Note that three of the quietest years since 1980 came in a four-year period – 1985 to 1988 – and helped fuel speculation that Tornado Alley was becoming a thing of the past.

That speculation ended with the massive outbreak on March 13, 1990, which included two F5 tornadoes in the Hesston area.

Greg Carbin, warning coordination meteorologist for the Storm Prediction Center, said the low numbers this year have a pretty obvious explanation.

“This is similar to other El Nino springs,” Carbin said of the climate pattern in which equatorial Pacific waters become unusually warm – affecting weather around the globe.

But low numbers through mid-April do not necessarily correlate to a slumbering tornado season as a whole, Carbin cautioned.

Two of the quieter tornado seasons in recent years – 2003 and 2004 – saw more than 500 tornadoes touch down in May alone.

That’s why meteorologists don’t use early numbers as much of a correlation for how the rest of the tornado season will go. Yet even they have taken note of how quiet Tornado Alley – and the rest of the nation – has been thus far.