By John Roach, AccuWeather staff writer.
May 2020 figures to be nothing like last month, with its record-setting tornado totals for April and also unlike the off-the-chart totals of last May. And being “different,” in this case, is great news for those situated in typical tornado hot spots.
“We are expecting a different May compared to last year; there were more than 500 tornadoes in May 2019,” said AccuWeather Lead Long-Range Meteorologist Paul Pastelok. “This year, the total may be right around normal.”
A little normalcy would be a welcome relief after an April that included 351 preliminary reports of tornadoes in the United States – that would be the second-most of any April, according to SPC records, topped only by April 2011 (1,085). And last May, a total of 506 tornadoes occurred – roughly 46 percent more than the average for May of 269 and just off the record of 542.AccuWeather is predicting 250 to 325 tornadoes for May 2020. For all of 2020, AccuWeather forecasts a normal to slightly above-normal number of tornadoes, with a range of 1,375 to 1,450. That range would cover what occurred in 2019 (1,422) and is 10 to 15 percent more than the United States annual average (between 1,253 and 1,297 tornadoes occur annually in the U.S.).
“The first half of this month will be held back due to widespread cooling and low dew points from the north-central Plains to the East,” said Pastelok. “In addition, stronger upper high pressure early over the West will limit upper-level support for strong events in the Plains and Mississippi Valley.”A total of 583 tornadoes have occurred through the end of April in 2020, according to the SPC’s preliminary reports. The three-year average is 427, meaning there have been 26 percent more tornadoes this year. However, 2020 so far is 45 percent higher than the four-month average of 321 from 1991-2015.
“The tornado trend will pick up late May in the south-central Plains and mid- to lower Mississippi Valley,” Pastelok said. 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 73 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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