Forecaster says worst of tornado season may be over, but late summer, fall can still produce deadly twisters

Published 11:45 am Friday, August 23, 2019

By John Roach, AccuWeather staff writer

The 2019 tornado season got off to a deadly start, ramped up to a record-setting May then settled down for a stretch producing fewer tornadoes than usual from June through August so far.

And while September through November are not peak tornado months, AccuWeather Lead Long-Range Meteorologist Paul Pastelok says that things aren’t over yet.

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According to AccuWeather’s Late-Season Tornado Outlook forecasts, based on AccuWeather research, there will be roughly 50-60 tornadoes in September, roughly 40-50 in October and approximately 65-75 in November, with the prime area of activity taking place in Gulf Coast and Tornado Alley states.

The 25-year average number of United States tornadoes for September, October and November is 66, 58 and 56, respectively, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Storm Prediction Center.

AccuWeather now estimates the total number of tornadoes for 2019 will be between 1,350 and 1,425.

“The Gulf Coast states will see activity early in September, and it could be tornadoes or heavy rainfall,” Pastelok said. “We have seen many times that tropical systems can contribute to the total count in September.

“We may have to watch November closely, because while it will get cool and unfavorable in October, things can ramp up again in November with an active storm track from the Rockies into the middle of the nation. We are forecasting a below-normal tornado count in October but above normal in November,” Pastelok added.

AccuWeather’s 2019 forecast released in February accurately pinpointed the areas to be hit hardest this year, with a higher frequency of severe weather risks in the traditional Tornado Alley — notably Oklahoma, Kansas, and parts of Texas — than they had experienced on average the previous three years.

So far this year, Texas, with 170 tornadoes, has experienced the most in the U.S., according to preliminary, unconfirmed data from NOAA. Kansas is second with 123, while Oklahoma with 90 is fourth behind Mississippi, which has had 94.

NOAA’s preliminary reports show there have been 1,407 tornadoes in 2019, but that total is not a confirmed final number. There were 1,124 tornadoes in 2018, and the 25-year average is 1,199 tornadoes a year, according to NOAA’s Storm Prediction Center.

One of the strongest confirmed tornadoes this year was an EF4 tornado that killed 23 people in Lee County, Alabama, in early March. Then, in May, 556 tornadoes were reported in the U.S., unofficially breaking the record of 542 set in 2003, though the monthly total has yet to be confirmed. The 25-year average for May is 269.

“The Alabama tornado in March then the abundance of May tornadoes certainly stand out this year,” Pastelok said. “Since late winter, our long-range forecast given to our premium clients was for an active start along the Gulf early, with May being the busiest month.

“But,” Pastelok noted, “we’re forecasting between 155 and 185 more tornadoes for the next three months, so there is still reason to stay proactive and be mindful of tornado activity.”