Tornadoes don’t usually happen in December … or do they?

Christmas Day tornado damageThis past weekend the National Weather Service and others were forecasting wicked storms and tornadoes along the Gulf Coast for Christmas day, and sadly those predictions were spot on.

Preliminary reports say 34 tornadoes touched down across Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama during Tuesday’s outbreak although that total will probably be revised downward as duplicate reports are discovered.

But if you listen to anchors on the news or read the comments on weather stories like we do, many were saying tornadoes in December is not normal or it’s due to global warming, etc. (sigh)

Actually … tornadoes happen in the U.S. year round. Most tornadoes obviously occur during the spring and early summer months, but December twisters are not as rare as people think.

The following chart shows the number of tornado reports listed in NOAA’s National Weather Service Storm Prediction Center’s Annual Severe Weather Report Summaries for 2000 through 2012. (Note: 2012 data is through Dec 19th so does not include the 34 preliminary reported tornadoes on Christmas day.)

US Tornadoes by month 2000 thru 2013

If you run your finger across the month of December, you’ll see a few wild variations. There were 99 tornadoes in Dec 2002 but only 1 in 2003 … and the 13-year average for December is 35 so tornadoes DO happen throughout the year and it’s just part of Mother Nature’s mood swings. When warm moist air in the south or southeast collides with winter cold fronts, bad things can happen.

tornado and lightning

Interesting tornado statistics

  • The U.S. has more tornado sightings than any other place in the world and averages about 1,300 tornadoes each year.
  • The last time a number of tornadoes impacted the Gulf Coast area around Christmas Day was in 2009, when 22 tornadoes occurred during the morning of December 24th.
  • According to the National Weather Service (NWS), at least one killer tornado has occurred during the month of December in 8 of the last 20 years. Over the entire official record, at least one killer tornado has been recorded in December almost every other year (27 out of 61 years).
  • The highest recorded tornado occurred in 2004 over Rockwell Pass in California’s Sequoia National Park at about 12,000 to 12,500 feet.
  • Tornadoes can last for several seconds or more than an hour, but most last less than 10 minutes.
  • The force of a tornado can strip asphalt chunks off roads, rip clothes off people and pluck feathers off chickens.

The most important thing to do year round wherever you live is to pay attention to forecasts, keep a NOAA Weather Radio handy when nasty weather is brewing, and learn what to do before, during and after various types of emergencies and disasters.

Feel free to download and share some free preparedness and safety tips about tornadoes, flooding, winter storms and more from our IT’S A DISASTER! …and what are YOU gonna do about it? book

Additional resources:

NOAA Tornado safety tips

More NOAA tips

The Tornado Project Online!

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One Response to Tornadoes don’t usually happen in December … or do they?

  1. disasterdoc says:

    Not only do tornadoes happen in December, but they happen in places outside of “tornado country”. On 12/14/10, we had a tornado in Aumsville, Oregon. Although small compared to many tornadoes, it still damaged 50 buildings. County emergency management had a plan for tornadoes, even though most Oregonians had no idea they happen here (just like earthquakes in the Midwest and Virginia!). it shows the value of truly understanding your risk from different disasters (otherwise known as hazard analysis for the professionals!).
    Sheila Sund, M.D.
    Disasterdoc.net

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