Where tornadoes may be most active in April in the US

A man looks over buildings destroyed by storms Tuesday, March 3, 2020, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

Despite an active start to the 2020 tornado season in January and February, the number of tornadoes in March reverted to the average – despite deadly tornadoes in Nashville, Tennessee, March 2-3. That trend toward average is expected to continue in April, according to AccuWeather meteorologists. 

AccuWeather forecasts 150 to 200 tornadoes in April; the average for the month is 178, according to Storm Prediction Center records from 1991-2015. For all of 2020, AccuWeather predicts a normal to slightly above-normal number of tornadoes, with a range of 1,350 to 1,450. That range would cover what occurred in 2019 (1,422) and is 5 to 15 percent more than the United States annual average (between 1,253 and 1,297 tornadoes occur annually in the U.S.). 

Severe weather will continue to break out across the central Gulf states back through the lower Mississippi Valley in April,” said AccuWeather Lead Long-Range Meteorologist Paul Pastelok. “March was quite active, as far as severe weather, but the tornado numbers were lower than expected. However, tornadoes found their way into populated and busy cities causing tremendous destruction.” There were 141 preliminary reports of tornadoes through the first two months. That was more than double the U.S. average of 68 from 1991-2015. 

But in March, a total of 106 reported tornadoes occurred, with 76 confirmed; the average for March is 75 tornadoes, according to Storm Prediction Center records from 1991-2015. 

Right now, we are on an average pace compared to the 2005-2015 average for number of tornadoes and slightly above average of the 1981-2010 normal,” Pastelok said. “The early start to the season in January and February has compensated for the March totals. We lean toward the lower end of the range overall for 2020, but we still have a way to go this year.

With the latest models now showing more warmth in the southern part of the nation but still chilly in the north, April severe weather indicates an average number of tornadoes for the month. The biggest question is: Will the tornado numbers rise with each event? We expect more activity along the Gulf states with some events as well into the central Plains to the Midwest in April, expanding south, north and east in May.”

Two of the worst U.S. tornado outbreaks historically occurred during the month of April: the 1974 Super Outbreak (April 3-4) and the 2011 Super Outbreak (April 25-28). 

The 1974 Super Outbreak impacted 13 states – from the Great Lakes to the Deep South – and included 148 documented tornadoes, with 30 rated as F4 or F5 (before the Enhanced Fujita Scale was created). The 2011 Super Outbreak challenged and surpassed the records set by almost all previous tornado events and is ranked as one of the deadliest and most expensive meteorological disasters on record.  

Although tornadoes can occur at any time, the U.S. tornado season typically runs from March through November or sometimes into early December. Tornadoes cause an average of 80 U.S. fatalities annually, and tornadoes and their destruction killed a total of 41 people in 2019. A total of 33 tornado-related fatalities have occurred so far in 2020.

The current average number of U.S. tornadoes per year based on long-term data is lower than what actually occurs each year. That’s because the number of tornadoes reported annually has been rising over the past few decades mainly because more are reported as the U.S. population has risen and more people have access to mobile devices and cameras. Many tornadoes of the past were not seen or recorded; this change may amount to an increase of reported tornadoes of up to 20 percent over the last 40 years and 10 percent over the past 20 years.

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