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May-June 2010

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The 2009 Annual Tornado Summary: A Quiet Year Means Few Fatalities

Tornado activity during 2009 was below normal across the nation. Summer thunderstorms were less frequent, especially across parts of the Midwest and over the Great Lakes region, where unusually cool and stable conditions dominated the daily weather pattern from late spring through the summer months. Even so, the annual tally of tornadoes reached 50 percent of the average annual total on May 15, about two weeks earlier than the 10-year average “half-way point” of May 30. At the close of the year, the count of 1,156 tornadoes in 2009 was 134 tornadoes shy of the 1999–2008 average annual count of 1,290.

There were only nine killer tornadoes in 2009, which claimed 21 lives. Remarkably, this is the lowest number of killer tornadoes in any year since records began in 1950! Ten killer tornadoes occurred in 1962, and again in 1966. Over the past 10 years, the average annual number of killer tornadoes in the United States is 22, and they claim 64 lives per year. The 21-fatality total in 2009 was the lowest fatality count since 1986, when 15 lives were claimed by 11 killer tornadoes. Injuries directly related to tornadoes were also relatively low in 2009, as would be expected during a below-normal year. There were 320 tornado injuries in 2009, about one-third of the 10-year average annual number of 970.

GREG CARBIN is the warning coordination meteorologist with NOAA's National Weather Service Storm Prediction Center.

Dr. Joseph Schaefer is the former director of NOAA's National Weather Service Storm Prediction Center.

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