Weather

Tornado Alley has been incredibly quiet this spring - but that's about to change

Tornado season has been non-existent in Kansas so far in 2018. But other quiet seasons eventually surged into life, such as 2013 - as reflected by this large tornado that just missed Rozel in late May of that year.
Tornado season has been non-existent in Kansas so far in 2018. But other quiet seasons eventually surged into life, such as 2013 - as reflected by this large tornado that just missed Rozel in late May of that year. Darin Brunin, Shalyn Phillips and Dick McGowan

Tornado season has never been this quiet this long in Oklahoma before, and Kansas hasn't had a spring like this in decades.

The two states that comprise much of the heart of Tornado Alley haven't recorded a tornado all year as April draws to a close.

"It's pretty incredible, really," said Jack Boston, senior meteorologist for AccuWeather's Wichita office.

California has had more tornadoes this year than Kansas. So have Idaho, Ohio, Indiana and Virginia.

A stubborn weather pattern that has allowed cool, dry air in Canada to dive all the way into the southern Great Plains has stifled the arrival of warm spring temperatures and kept moisture from the Gulf of Mexico from pushing into the nation's heartland.

March had the third-largest area of snow cover on record over North America, Valley Center storm chaser Brandon Ivey, who operates Storm Chasing Tour and shoots severe weather, said in an interview on social media. That snow pack has helped the cold air to filter farther south into the U.S. than normal.

With much of Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas battling a drought, weather officials say, what moisture that has made it to the region has been evaporated by the arid setting.

A tornado-warned storm passes over Mount Hope on Friday afternoon, May, 19, 2017.

The result has been a spring rarely seen in Kansas. Unless a tornado touches down sometime on Monday - and forecasters say there's a slight chance of that - this will be the first time in decades that Kansas hasn't recorded its first tornado of the year by the end of April.

It's only happened three times since detailed records began being kept in 1950: 1962, 1967 and 1980.

The Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla., cautions that there's a chance for a tornado or two in western Kansas on Monday.

Eric Metzger, a meteorologist with the Wichita branch of the National Weather Service, said data he looked at on Saturday suggests thunderstorms on Monday could produce hail but not likely tornadoes.

The potential will increase with the turning of the calendar, however. Forecasters say severe weather is possible both Tuesday and Wednesday in the Sunflower State.

"I will be surprised if there is not a tornado in Kansas" during the first few days in May, Larry Ruthi, meteorologist-in-charge of the Dodge City branch of the National Weather Service, said in an e-mail response to questions.

Ivey said he expects Tornado Alley to explode into life soon. The surface temperature in the Gulf of Mexico never dropped below 73 this winter, he said, which hadn't been recorded before.

"Plenty of moisture is available once the pattern establishes itself," Ivey said.

Computer models suggest there will be opportunities for tornadoes in Kansas before another quiet spell arrives, said Mick McGuire, a meteorologist with the Wichita branch of the weather service.

The same models suggest the second half of May will be stormy, he said. Tornado seasons stayed quiet until the middle of May in 2004 and 2013.

"Then boom!" Ivey said. "It got active."

The Hoisington Police Department shot this video of a tornado 2 miles west of town on May 16, 2017.

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