March 10, 2021
As if 2020 was not strange enough, a quick review of tornado activity will add another wrinkle to every other crazy thing about The Year We’d Rather Forget.
#1: 2020 tornado activity was well below normal….after running above normal through spring. The year’s unofficial tally of 1058 tornadoes is shown below, where the black line represents the number of tornadoes and the green line is what occurs in an average year. As you can see, we were running above normal (black line above the green line) until early June, when the twisters died out. We ended up 20% below normal for the year.
#2: Despite a low number of tornadoes, one of this year’s twisters was an absolute monster. On Easter Sunday, April 12, this home near Bassfield, MS was swept away by an enormous two-mile-wide EF-4 tornado; the largest tornado ever recorded in the state of Mississippi.
#3 The most heart-breaking tornado was an EF-4 that struck Cookeville, TN at 2am, when everyone was asleep, killing nineteen. A tornado warning was issued ten minutes in advance, and broadcasted immediately on NOAA Weather Radio, saving numerous lives. But many folks who went to bed thinking their cell phones would alert them got no warning, because cell towers failed as the storm approached. The tornado miraculously lifted blocks before it would have struck the city’s primary hospital.
#4 Interestingly, the state of Kansas, normally the most tornado-active location on the planet, had a record low number of tornadoes, and none at all from January 1 through April 30. Through the year, only 40 Kansas tornadoes were reported; 94 is typical. This graphic shows areas of the US that had more tornadoes than average (orange), and areas that had less than average (blue/purple). It was a quiet year in much of Tornado Alley, but a deadly one in the Southeast.
The number of US tornadoes fluctuates every year, and much of this is due to normal climate cycles. But as the people of Cookeville, TN can attest, even in a year of very few tornadoes, it only takes one to re-write history for your county, your city, your neighborhood, or your family. Be prepared and have a plan. I recommend a NOAA Weather Radio for every home, school and business. As the official “Voice of the National Weather Service”, there is no faster or more reliable way to get official watches and warnings. Get one today, and sleep better tonight.