Jeff co-founded the Weather Underground in 1995 while working on his Ph.D. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990.
By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 2:22 PM GMT on March 05, 2007
It's been a vicious and early tornado season in the U.S. this year. Already, two major tornado outbreaks have killed 20 people each--the Central Florida tornado event of February 2, and last week's swarm of at least 35 tornadoes in the Southeast. In addition, an outbreak of 10 tornadoes hit the deep south February 12, killing one person in New Orleans. Only one year in recorded history has had more tornado deaths so early in the year--1949, when a tornado in Warren, Arkansas killed 55 people on January 3. The 45 fatalities in 2007 is close to the 3-year average of 46 fatalities observed for the entire year, and the 151 tornadoes observed so far in 2007 is about double what is usually observed.
Damage surveys are still being done of the devastation from last week's tornado outbreak, but it appears that five strong EF-3 tornadoes with winds of 136-165 mph touched down. Three of these twisters were killers, including the tornado that hit Enterprise, Alabama, killing eight students at the high school. The two EF-3 tornadoes observed during the Central Florida tornado event bring this year's total of EF-3 twisters to seven, a very high number of these strong tornadoes for so early in the year. What's causing such an early and severe tornado season? Well, the Central Florida outbreak can be blamed on El Niņo. The other two outbreaks occurred when El Niņo was suffering a rapid demise, so we'll have to blame them on unusually early spring-like weather in the U.S. With the peak months of tornado season still to come, let's hope for an unusally early end to tornado season as well!
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