There were 1,280 tornadoes documented across the United States in 2010. That is close to normal, based on the annual average from 2000 through 2009. However, 2010 featured unusual outbreaks interspersed with periods of unusual quiet. There were about a dozen fewer tornado-related fatalities compared to recent years, and it was the first time that Minnesota has ever led the nation with more tornadoes than any other state.
The year's first tornado was an EF0 that touched down with little fanfare or damage on the west side of Fresno, in central California, on the afternoon of January 18. This singular event was a precursor to additional tornadoes that occurred in Southern California on January 19, as a series of powerful low pressure systems brought stormy conditions across a large swath of the western United States. Just after 10:30 a.m., a small tornado developed over Isla Vista, in Santa Barbara County, near the community of Goleta. A few hours later, another thunderstorm brought with it a waterspout that came onshore in Sunset Beach, in Orange County, and then moved northeast as a strong tornado. The tornado flipped a parked vehicle and damaged boats in Huntington Harbor, before crossing the Pacific Coast Highway and dissipating in a little over four miles. This tornado was later rated EF1. The average first date for a tornado anywhere in the country, since 1950 (past 60 years), is January 12. So, 2010 started about a week later than the long-term average for the country.
GREG CARBIN is the Warning Coordination Meteorologist at the NOAA/National Weather Service Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Oklahoma
JARED GUYER is an Outlook/Mesoscale Forecaster at the NOAA/National Weather Service Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Oklahoma.