Even though 2014 is another relatively quiet year for tornado activity, it's pretty interesting to see which areas of the country were most heavily affected by the couple of tornado outbreaks we've seen over the past six months.
[Note: Due to Kinja compressing the images, the maps will look blurry unless you expand them.]
I created the maps using data compiled from the Iowa Environmental Mesonet (IEM), which keeps excellent records of National Weather Service (NWS) products, including warnings and storm reports. Each black triangle on the map indicates one tornado report (note that a report of a tornado is different from a confirmed tornado), and each red box indicates one tornado warning. The data spans from 0000 UTC January 1, 2014 to 1700 UTC today, June 26.
So far this year as of 1700 UTC today (which is 1 PM Eastern Time), we've seen 922 tornado reports and 1,229 tornado warnings across 43 states and Puerto Rico.
The pattern of tornadoes across the country is roughly what you would expect for this time of year, save for the gaping hole in the central Plains where they haven't seen much in the way of storms this year. In fact, NWS Norman (central Oklahoma) has only issued seven tornado warnings this year. Seven.
The two areas that stand out the most are northeastern Colorado and the Deep South, as each have seen their fair share of tornado activity this year. Let's take a closer look at each.
Though most people don't realize it, this region of the country is always a hotbed for tornadoes. Northeastern Colorado is home to the county that sees the most tornadoes each year on average, and it's in a prime location at the foot of the Rocky Mountains to see brief spin-ups.
Thankfully, most of the tornadoes that occur in northeastern Colorado are relatively weak — only EF-0 to EF-1 in strength — and don't last very long.
The central part of the country is generally known as Tornado Alley due to its tendency to see large, violent tornadoes each spring, but there is a second target for violent tornado activity in the United States called "Dixie Alley." The region exists mostly across Mississippi and Alabama, where storm systems moving in from the west can meet powerful low-level southerly winds pumping in moisture from the Gulf and spin off some powerful twisters.
This was on full display back on April 27 and 28 of this year, right on the three year anniversary of the infamous tornado outbreak back in 2011. The southern United States saw the most intense outbreak of the year, with numerous EF-3 and EF-4 tornadoes causing damage from Arkansas to Alabama, killing dozens of people and causing more than one billion dollars in damage.
The Northern Plains
While Oklahoma has seen an almost unbelievably quiet year for tornadoes, they haven't had it so lucky to the north. Nebraska and South Dakota were raked by tornadoes just last week, with no fewer than five EF-4 tornadoes and at least one EF-3 touching down in small communities in the area.
The worst tornado(es) by far occurred in the tornado family that struck the area in/around Pilger, Nebraska back on June 16. One supercell produced five tornadoes, four of which were rated EF-4. Two of these tornadoes were "twins," or two strong, independent tornadoes forming side-by-side from the same storm.
Another EF-4 tornado hit the small community of Alpena, South Dakota, producing major damage, and an EF-2 tornado caused damage to Alpena's southwest, in a community called Wessington Springs.
Not many people think of California as having a tornado season, but the northern half of the Central Valley around Sacramento often sees small, rope-like tornadoes during the early spring months. Several tornadoes formed in and around Chico and Sacramento towards the end of March, including a series of EF-1 tornadoes that produced damage around Willows, California on March 26 and 27.
Thankfully, the heavily-populated northeastern United States hasn't seen much in the way of tornadoes this year. The worst tornado in the northeast occurred in Duanesburg, New York back on May 22. The tornado was rated an EF-3, and many residents didn't receive the warning issued by the NWS in Albany due to a major communications outage the plagued the agency that afternoon.
Several smaller tornadoes formed across the region, including a small unwarned tornado that hit Lock Haven, Pennsylvania last month and another small tornado that touched down near the Maine/Canada border at the end of May.
As we're almost halfway through 2014, we will definitely see more tornado activity than what we've seen so far. Major tornado outbreaks are not uncommon during the fall months, but hopefully the rest of the year will follow the slow trend.