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May-June 2017

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The 2016 Tornado Season: Another Below-Average Year

There were approximately 971 tornadoes in the United States in 2016, which is 21% below the 25-year annual average. It was the fifth year in a row of below-average nationwide tornado numbers, after a devastating 2011 tornado season when 1,692 tornadoes occurred. The year began with an above-normal rate, one of the most active Februarys on record, and a strong El Niño potentially a factor in an active early season across the South. However, much-below-average numbers of tornadoes occurred in the late spring and early summer months.

Tornadoes were reported in 43 states in 2016. There were 17 tornado fatalities, with 12 of these occurring in mobile homes, three in other housing, and the other two in vehicles. The 17 fatalities of 2016 were well below the 25-year average of 76 annual tornado deaths, making it one of the least devastating years for fatalities since 2009 (21 fatalities).

January

January had 17 tornadoes as compared to the 25-year monthly average of 36 tornadoes. The first tornado of 2016 was in central California on the morning of January 6. This brief EF0 tornado occurred north of Hollister in San Benito County, damaging two barns/sheds. Most of the other tornadoes during the month were across southern Mississippi and south Florida.

On January 9, a lone EF2 tornado occurred across southwest Florida in the western sections of Cape Coral. There were three injuries, and the tornado damaged 178 structures in total. One home was completely destroyed, while 14 homes sustained major damage. Less than a week later, another short-lived tornado (EF1) would strike southern parts of the Cape Coral metro area during the early morning hours of January 15 causing damage to four structures.

The relatively active period for Florida would continue into the early morning hours of January 17 with a favorable environment ahead of deepening low pressure over the northern Gulf of Mexico. Multiple tornadoes occurred along Florida's west coast, unfortunately including 2016's first two tornado fatalities when a single-wide mobile home was rolled over and destroyed in rural Manatee County south-southeast of the Tampa area. Several days later, an amplifying upper system and increasing low-level moisture were favorable for severe thunderstorms on January 21 from parts of Louisiana into southern Mississippi and the Florida Panhandle. This included eight tornadoes, one of which produced EF2 damage west of Hattiesburg, Mississippi.

February

There were 102 tornadoes during the month, making it one of the most active Februarys on record. Since official records began in 1950, only one February has had more tornadoes (147 in 2008). February averages 31 tornadoes. The first tornadoes of the month were during the afternoon of February 2, when 10 tornadoes occurred across eastern Mississippi and western Alabama. One particular supercell moved northeastward across east-central Mississippi and produced three tornadoes (two EF2) in Newton, Lauderdale, Kemper, and Noxubee Counties before moving into western Alabama, where it produced a few more tornadoes including an EF2 in Pickens County. The next day, there were four mostly weak and short-lived tornadoes across parts of Georgia and the Carolinas.

After an 11-day stretch without severe weather across the United States, February 15 saw an increase in severe-weather risk, as an increasingly moist airmass developed northward across the Deep South ahead of an evolving upper system over the Great Plains. A total of 17 tornadoes impacted the southern halves of Mississippi and Alabama to the Florida Panhandle during the afternoon of February 15, including a 16-mile track EF3 tornado in Escambia County, Florida, that damaged or destroyed numerous homes. Later that night, as a squall line moved across the Florida Peninsula, a total of six tornadoes were confirmed across South Florida, including two EF1 tornadoes in Pompano Beach and Moore Haven during the early morning hours of February 16.

The month's most impactful severe weather occurred on February 23–24 in areas spanning the Deep South and Gulf Coast to the mid-Atlantic states. A total of seven tornado-related fatalities occurred during this devastating outbreak that yielded more than 70 tornadoes over the two-day period.

Tornadoes first touched down across portions of Louisiana and Mississippi during the afternoon of February 23, with multiple significant tornadoes impacting areas between New Orleans and Baton Rouge, Louisiana. A 21-mile track EF3 tornado initially touched down just southwest of Paincourtville, Louisiana, in Assumption Parish and moved northeast for 12 miles across the parish. The tornado crossed the Mississippi River into Saint James Parish, Louisiana, where there were two fatalities and approximately 75 injuries at an RV park. A short time later, another strong (EF2) tornado caused one fatality at a mobile home just west of Purvis, Mississippi.

Severe storms developed into parts of Alabama, northern Florida, and southern Georgia by the evening hours of February 23. An EF3 tornado impacted the Pensacola, Florida, metro area, causing around $22 million in property damage, making it 2016's costliest single tornado in terms of property damage. Multiple vehicles were overturned, two apartment buildings sustained major damage, and a warehouse at a General Electric plant was destroyed.

The severe-weather outbreak continued into the mid-Atlantic states on February 24, with more than 30 tornadoes across North Carolina and Virginia during the afternoon and evening hours. Around 2:30 p.m., three people were killed when an EF1 tornado struck a mobile home near Waverly in southeast Virginia. A short time later, an EF3 tornado caused a 17-mile path of damage across Appomattox County, Virginia. The tornado passed just southeast of the town of Appomattox, impacting the community of Evergreen before lifting near Holiday Lake State Park. A fatality occurred in Evergreen, and 30 structures were completely destroyed with 160 others damaged. During the evening, an 11-mile-track EF3 tornado impacted Essex County in eastern Virginia. Three modular homes, two double wide mobile homes and one single wide mobile home, were completely destroyed. The two EF3 tornadoes in Virginia on February 24 are the only two F3 (or greater) tornadoes in the state in February since official records began in 1950.

March

There were 86 tornadoes, which was slightly above the 25-year average of 75 tornadoes. The month began with three tornadoes in central Alabama on March 1, including an EF2 tornado in Jefferson County, Alabama, that significantly damaged 12 homes. A multiday severe weather and significant flooding event across the southern United States initially impacted parts of Texas on March 7–8, resulting in a dozen mostly weak tornadoes across central and northern Texas. Following this period of significant flooding, 11 tornadoes occurred across central and southern Arkansas and nearby northwest Mississippi on March 13 as another system approached the region. All of these tornadoes were rated EF0 or EF1, but one of the EF1 tornadoes produced $2.5 million damage, as it directly hit the South Delta Regional Correctional Facility near Dermott, Arkansas.

On March 14, five mostly weak and short-lived tornadoes occurred across the Miami Valley region of western Ohio. The next day, a deepening area of low pressure and a warm front were factors in 11 tornadoes across far eastern Iowa into northern and central Illinois during the afternoon and evening of March 15. An EF2 tornado touched down in Good Hope, Illinois, and traveled for 16 miles into Fulton County. Several homes were severely damaged. Near the Quad Cities, an EF2 tornado completely destroyed 10 homes in rural East Moline, Illinois. Another EF2 tornado touched down just northwest of Trivoli, Illinois, in Peoria County and tracked along a seven-mile path to near Kickapoo, damaging homes and a church while also throwing a car 50 yards into a field.

A little more than a week later, on March 23, an eastward-shifting upper trough over the Plains contributed to severe thunderstorms across the Southern Plains and Ozarks ahead of a dry line. Three tornadoes occurred, including an EF2 tornado that tracked from northeast Oklahoma into northwest Arkansas, severely damaging multiple homes and injuring four people along an 11-mile path. Four tornadoes occurred across western portions of Kentucky and Tennessee on March 27. Just south of a Crofton, Kentucky, an EF2 tornado caused moderate damage to two homes and $500,000 damage at a farm.

The month's most active period of severe weather occurred March 30–31, with seven tornadoes across parts of Kansas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas on March 30. Most notably, a supercell produced two strong (EF2) tornadoes on the north side of the Tulsa, Oklahoma, metro area, injuring seven people in north Tulsa and damaging more than 300 homes and 13 churches that evening. Another 20 tornadoes spanned parts of the Deep South northward into Indiana on March 31.

April

A total of 141 tornadoes occurred during the month as compared to a monthly average of 175 tornadoes. During the late-night hours of April 6, there were more than a dozen tornadoes across eastern Alabama and southwest Georgia, including an EF2 tornado responsible for five injuries in Calhoun County, Georgia. The pattern would become more active across the Southern High Plains by the middle of the month, with more than 20 tornadoes (all EF0 or EF1) occurring across southeast Colorado, southwest Kansas, the Oklahoma Panhandle, and West Texas on April 15–16.

The last week of April accounted for more than half of the month's tornadoes. In particular, a widespread outbreak of severe thunderstorms on April 26 impacted a broad region from the central and southern Plains to the Ohio Valley. More than 40 tornadoes were confirmed, mostly across eastern Oklahoma, but all were rated EF0 or EF1. Later that night (early on April 27), the month's lone tornado fatality was associated with an EF0 tornado just north of Houston, Texas, as an elderly woman was killed from a large tree crashing into her mobile home.

As the storm system shifted eastward, the afternoon and evening of April 27 again saw a relatively large number (22) of weak tornadoes, with more than 20 tornadoes spanning a region from Omaha, Nebraska, to south-central Illinois and western Kentucky. Another 20 tornadoes occurred on April 29–30 across parts of Texas and southern Oklahoma to Louisiana and southern Arkansas. This included four EF2 tornadoes across East Texas, one of which was a 27-mile-track tornado that initially touched down near Lindale, Texas.

May

There were 216 tornadoes in May, which is below the 25-year monthly average of 268 tornadoes. May 7 began a multiday stretch of tornadoes across the Great Plains. On the afternoon of May 7, a multiple-vortex tornado near Interstate 76 in northeast Colorado produced EF2 damage in Weld County, while another tornado was responsible for EF2 damage to the north of Wray, Colorado.

As the severe risk shifted eastward, another EF2 tornado occurred on May 8 in north-central Kansas, initially touching down north of the town of Catharine in rural Ellis County. May 9 saw a more extensive outbreak of tornadoes, with nearly 30, some of which were long-lived, including four that were rated EF3 or greater. Parts of south-central and southeast Oklahoma suffered the greatest impact on May 9, including the first of 2016's two EF4 tornadoes (there were no EF5s in 2016) that killed one person near the town of Katie.

Farther east, an EF3 tornado touched down just east of Interstate 35 between Wynnewood and Davis, Oklahoma, moving generally east before dissipating between the towns of Roff and Hickory, in Oklahoma. Another EF3 tornado in Johnston and Coal Counties killed a person as it tracked from near Connerville to Bromide. An additional EF3 tornado impacted areas just to the south of Bennington and Boswell in southeast Oklahoma. Another round of nearly a dozen tornadoes occurred across western Kentucky and far southern Illinois on May 10. One of these tornadoes was a 19-mile-track EF3 tornado that impacted the northern sides of Mayfield, Kentucky, causing major damage or destroying several homes while also extensively damaging a car dealership.

Another active multiday period for tornadoes began on May 22, with 25 tornadoes spanning the High Plains from West Texas northward into the Dakotas. This included two separate EF3 tornadoes in Southwest Texas near Big Spring and Garden City. Another EF3 tornado occurred the next evening in rural parts of Hall County, Texas. On May 24, multiple supercells erupted across western Kansas during the late afternoon ahead of a High Plains dry line. In particular, one cyclic supercell produced a dozen highly visible tornadoes, including multiple tornadoes simultaneously.

Dodge City, the most populous town in western Kansas, narrowly missed a direct hit by these tornadoes. In all, around two-dozen tornadoes occurred across southwest Kansas, including five EF3 tornadoes. A house was destroyed just east of Ensign, a semi-truck was overturned on US-50, and numerous homes along highway 50 just west of Dodge City were heavily damaged. A separate tornado destroyed a home northwest of Jetmore. The second of 2016's EF4 tornadoes occurred across northern Kansas on May 25. An isolated supercell produced a long-track (nearly 22 miles) violent EF4 tornado that was on the ground for more than an hour. This tornado was up to one-half-mile wide at times, destroying everything in its path as it passed a couple miles to the north of Abilene, Kansas. The tornado crossed Interstate 70 and produced its most intense damage just southwest of the town of Chapman.

June

June is usually the second most active tornado month, but this was not the case in 2016. A total of 86 tornadoes occurred during the month, which is a mere 37% of the monthly average of 230 tornadoes. The paltry tornado numbers of June 2016 make it one of the least active Junes for tornadoes in nearly 30 years (1988). A lone tornado on the evening of June 11 struck Baker, Montana, causing EF3 damage, making it the highest-rated tornado of the month. Two homes were destroyed and 40–50 more sustained excessive damage. The most tornado-active day of the month was June 22, when more than 20 tornadoes occurred. Two of the tornadoes in northern Illinois were rated EF2, with one impacting the Marseilles–Seneca areas and the other near Pontiac.

July

A total of 107 tornadoes occurred in the month as compared to a 25-year average of 125 tornadoes. An EF2 tornado on the afternoon of July 4 did extensive damage and injured five people at a Walmart and Food Service Warehouse in Louisa, Kentucky. On the evening of July 7, a lone supercell moved across southeastern Chase County into Greenwood County, Kansas, where it produced EF3 damage to a house. This tornado was the fifth such strong tornado to occur in Kansas during July since 1950. A second tornado in Greenwood County moved through the town of Eureka, producing EF2 damage.

During the late afternoon of July 11, there was a cluster of tornadoes near a remnant outflow boundary across south-central Minnesota, including two separate EF2 tornadoes near the towns of Litchfield and Watkins. As a squall line moved southeastward across the Upper Midwest, five short-track tornadoes occurred across eastern Iowa during the early morning hours of July 17. This included an EF2 in Walford and an EF1 tornado that did $5 million damage in Andrew. As storms moved southeastward out of Manitoba, Canada, during the late afternoon and evening of July 19, a cluster of five EF1 tornadoes occurred across northeast North Dakota and northwest Minnesota.

August

There were 90 tornadoes during the month, which was above the monthly average of 76. Eastern North Dakota and northwest Minnesota, as well as parts of Indiana into Lower Michigan and northwest Ohio, experienced the vast majority of the month's tornadoes. Multiple tornadoes, some of which were EF2 or greater, occurred across eastern North Dakota and northwest Minnesota on August 3 and August 27–28, including an EF3 tornado near Taft, North Dakota, on August 27.

During the evening of August 15, a long-track supercell thunderstorm produced six tornadoes across central Indiana, with two other tornadoes from other storms. Most regional tornado outbreaks in August are associated with hurricanes and tropical systems in the southeast United States; however, a relatively rare late-summer outbreak of tornadoes took place across parts of Indiana and Ohio on August 24. A total of 22 tornadoes occurred across northern and central portions of Indiana into northwest Ohio during the afternoon and early evening.

An EF3 tornado devastated Kokomo, Indiana, where 20 people were injured. This tornado caused significant structural damage to homes and businesses on the south side of Kokomo. A Starbucks was leveled, and at least 80 homes were destroyed. Another EF3 tornado occurred in Allen County, Indiana, to the east-northeast of Fort Wayne. Regarding the rarity of late-summer tornado outbreaks across the Midwest, the August 24 tornadoes account for more than 10% of all August tornadoes in Indiana and Ohio since 1950.

September

The month had 38 tornadoes as compared to a monthly average of 66 tornadoes. On September 1–2, there were 10 tornadoes across northern Florida and the coastal Carolinas in association with the northeastward-movement of Hurricane Hermine. A week later, four tornadoes developed across east-central Illinois near a warm front during the early evening hours of September 9, including the month's lone EF2 (or greater) tornado in rural Champaign County, Illinois. Multiple outbuildings were destroyed, and a house was pushed off its foundation causing it to collapse. On September 17, seven tornadoes occurred across the southern High Plains and western Pennsylvania. The final tornadoes of the month were on September 22 in Utah. Just south of Ogden, an EF1 tornado caused damage to numerous homes and structures, as well as many trees, while another EF1 tornado in southern Utah caused damage in the town of Panguitch.

October

There were 20 tornadoes during the month, which is less than half than the monthly average of 58 tornadoes. Thanks to an unseasonably warm and moist air mass, the most active tornado day during the month was October 6, with a dozen combined tornadoes across eastern Kansas, far eastern Iowa, and northwest Illinois near the Quad Cities. One of the strongest tornadoes was an EF3 just to the southeast of Salina, Kansas. A manufactured double-wide home was completely lifted and destroyed. Farm machinery was thrown across the property, including a combine that was rolled 75 yards. On October 14, a tornado started as a waterspout over the Pacific Ocean and came onshore into the town of Manzanita in northwest Oregon. This EF2-rated tornado produced $1 million in damage, which is the fourth highest amount of tornado-related property damage in Oregon since official records began. The last half of the month was extremely quiet with no tornadoes reported after October 14.

Map of tornado occurrences in 2016.

Map of tornado occurrences in 2016.

November

The extremely quiet pattern during the last half of October continued in November, resulting in a 39-day stretch without any tornadoes across the United States. Virtually all of November's 50 tornadoes happened during the final four days of the month. Seven mostly weak, short-lived tornadoes occurred across parts of Nebraska and Iowa on November 27–28. A more consequential regional outbreak of tornadoes took place on November 29–30 with around 28 tornadoes across the Deep South and Tennessee Valley. Areas from eastern Mississippi and Alabama into Southeast Tennessee were most heavily impacted, including a pair of deadly late-night EF3 tornadoes near Rosalie and Ider, Alabama, and Ocoee, Tennessee.

December

A preliminary total of 18 tornadoes occurred during the month. On Christmas Day, there were very rare late-December tornadoes across western and central Kansas and south-central Nebraska, accounting for the majority of the month's tornadoes. In association with a fast-moving squall line, these tornadoes were weak and mostly short-lived (only one EF1), but they were the first tornadoes reported on Christmas Day in Kansas and Nebraska. Prior to 2016, there had only been eight tornadoes reported in Kansas during the entire month of December, with only two tornadoes having been reported in Nebraska in December since official records began in 1950. The final tornado of the year was during the early morning hours of December 29 when a EF1 tornado damaged dozens of homes in the city of Jefferson, Georgia, along its 3.4-mile path.

All tornado numbers for 2016 remain preliminary pending further review by SPC and the NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI). The tallies indicated here are the best estimates at the time of publication.

JARED GUYER is a Lead Forecaster at the NOAA/National Weather Service Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Oklahoma.       

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