March 5th, 2012
02:08 PM ET

March tornado outbreak a sign of things to come?

The early-striking, intense storm system that hit the country last week has many people wondering if this year's spring could be a repeat of the violent season we saw last year.

U.S. tornado outbreaks happen nearly every year, but outbreaks of this magnitude and the outbreak at the end of April 2011 are rare.

“A March tornado outbreak of similar scope to (the recent one) occurs roughly once a decade," according to Russell Schneider, the director of NOAA’s Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Oklahoma.

This chart compares the number of tornado warnings during the April 2011 tornado outbreak and last week's storms.

Prior to April 2011, the U.S. last saw an outbreak of that magnitude in April 1974, when 148 tornadoes swept across 13 states, killing 330 people, and injuring 5,484. The outbreak on April 27 and 28, 2011, is the second deadliest outbreak in U.S.history, since records have been kept. It resulted in 320 deaths as 305 tornadoes swept across four states.

Currently, the death toll from Friday’s outbreak stands at 39, with the latest death being 15-month-old Angel Babcock who passed away Sunday afternoon from injuries sustained during the Henryville, Indiana, EF4 tornado. 

As surveys of the hard-hit areas are completed, the confirmed count could continue to rise. So far, this recent outbreak saw 128 reports of tornadoes across 12 states, with 45 of those tornadoes being confirmed.

This graphic shows the number of tornado reports associated with last week's outbreak.

These current statistics make March 2, 2012, one of the deadliest March days since 1994. If the death toll rises, this could be the worst March outbreak, which will not be confirmed until the National Weather Service completes its local damage assessments.

Given the severity of this recent outbreak, does this actually mean that we can expect another harrowing spring for tornadoes?

The U.S. winter of 2011-2012 was largely dominated by a La Niña event, which refers to abnormally cool temperatures in the Pacific Ocean, and that current La Nina is now weakening.

According to the Earth System Research Laboratory, research covering 1950-1992 found that La Niña years could lead to increased tornado activity for the Ohio River Valley and the Deep South. However, ESR says another study conducted over a longer period (1950-2003) found that neither the frequency of tornado days nor those of violent tornado days is affected by El Niño.

So it is not clear whether a particular year will have more tornadoes, but this year's winter has been warmer, allowing the Gulf of Mexico to stay relatively warm.

The Gulf is where these storm systems get their main moisture supply, and warmer waters allow for greater amounts of that moisture to be evaporated into the atmosphere. When you couple that abundance of moisture with very warm temperatures ahead of a strong upper-level storm system, you get the perfect ingredients for an outbreak, according to the National Weather Service.

Devastating outbreaks in spring 2011 had already put people on high alert for the upcoming season.

There have been huge advances in tornado detection in recent years, and that allows National Weather Service forecasters to give the public greater lead times when issuing warnings. On days like last Friday, when tornadoes are everywhere, people are more alert to the weather situation and more likely to take shelter in case of danger.

But if this early start to the tornado season tells us anything, it is that warnings by themselves are not enough: Establishing a safety plan with your family can save precious time, and hopefully, precious lives.

People all across the country, and certainly those in tornado-prone areas, should review their family safety plans to ensure the most timely response during a tornado warning.

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Filed under: Tornadoes • Weather
soundoff (184 Responses)
  1. PAM Terrace

    GET IT RIGHT ! PROJECT ☛ L I N D A M O R R I S ☚ is creating these storms ! The theories are done.

    March 6, 2012 at 11:54 am | Report abuse |
    • Ed Sr of Dallas Tx

      Who in hell is Linda Morris?

      March 6, 2012 at 12:05 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Pearl

    Not every religious person denies the process of global warming. Nor is it a matter of hating science. God made science & God knows history & science better than any human. He also made each & every one of you here commenting. God is not the author of studpity. We all have free will. God always expects us to protect & take care of the bodies that he has given us. He expects us to use our brains & plan ahead & be alert. God is not a murderer. Satan is the author of the lie.

    March 6, 2012 at 11:58 am | Report abuse |
    • Graham Krueger

      Believe whatever you wish about yourself, but my birth had nothing to do with your god. I'd appreciate your kind cessation of this slander against me!

      March 6, 2012 at 12:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • rob

      another thumper that uses God to explain everything

      March 6, 2012 at 12:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mark

      Another article soiled by an evangelical Christian spouting crap underneath it.

      March 6, 2012 at 12:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • john

      This deiety of yours created EVERYTHING ...... Yes ? Doesn't this mean he/she created the devil ?

      March 6, 2012 at 12:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • john

      And if he created the devil ... wouldn't a semi intelligent person think of that as a STUPID idea ? Why would you CREATE that which wants to destroy you ???????? I await your answer .

      March 6, 2012 at 12:49 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Pearl

    *stupidity lol

    March 6, 2012 at 12:00 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Scottish Mama

    I looked up tracking of storms and tornatos. It was It says storm prediction center, scroll down and click onto Severe thunderstorm events archive. Hope this helps.

    March 6, 2012 at 12:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • Scottish Mama

      @ Tao Shi.

      March 6, 2012 at 12:09 pm | Report abuse |
  5. dd

    Dang, we need to fix climate change. A one mile thick glacier buried Chicago a few thousand years ago. The most politically corrupt city in the nation should be buried by ice again. And those terrible American Natives. Who melted the glaciers? Well, it was the Indians, of course. Their fires and SUVs emitting who knows what melted a mile thick glacier. And it is still warming. We need to attack the American Natives who started this global warming. Chicago needs to be put back under ice ... and all of the Northern US states and all of Canada should be put under ice. Yes, the earth has warmed since the ice age and it was the American Native Indians who did it. We should take away their Casinos! I think the Global Warming Anarchists haven't looked back even 2000 years in history, less 4.5 billion. There is no science behind global warming alarmism. It is all models – and all of the models have FAILED. ALL FAIL! Recent CERN experiments using SCIENCE are showing that the climate of the earth is dominated by the SUN! The Anarchists hate science! They will organize the politicians to destroy all science that they don't like. Apples will no longer fall from trees – don't they wish.

    March 6, 2012 at 12:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ed

      Your ideological blinders prevent you from seeing the facts.
      1) While the earth does go through climatic cycles, it is the current rate of change that is alarming. We may not be able to adjust fast enough.
      2) It is not all "models", actual data is confirming the warming trend. Models attempt to predict what will happen, they are not needing to confirm what is already occuring.
      3) The sun is essentially stable in energy output and is not the cause of climate changes on earth. Those changes occur due to the make-up of the atmosphere and the earth's tilt (and precession).

      March 6, 2012 at 12:25 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Igor Purlantov

    According to Wikipedia this is very rare. Almost like an earthquake in Las Vegas. -Igor Purlantov

    March 6, 2012 at 12:05 pm | Report abuse |
  7. ZorakLives

    Yes, climate change is real. Yes, human beings have an impact on climate change. No, human beings cannot destroy or save the environment by passing or failing to pass some legislation regulating oil companies, lumber companies, and factories. Dramatic climate change is a fundamental aspect of life on earth. It was before human beings showed up and will be long after human beings are gone. All we can do is adapt to it.

    March 6, 2012 at 12:06 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Ed Sr of Dallas Tx MORE life insurance! Make your kids RICH! I'm getting another piece of the rock!

    March 6, 2012 at 12:07 pm | Report abuse |
  9. IndianaDobie

    Give me a break. When someone sneezes there are people that want to blame it on climate change. When Katrina hit we were told the intense hurricanes that year were because of climate change, and everyone got worried about that this was a sign of things to come. When the next year had one of the quietest hurricane seasons in 50 years – we were told that too was because of climate change. Apparently – anything and everything is because of climate change, but we can't tell you ahead of time what is coming.

    March 6, 2012 at 12:11 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Klaas Jan

    There's no adequate predictor for tornado season. This is fear-mongering at it's finest. We simply do not know.

    March 6, 2012 at 12:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • mizh

      ".... at its finest"

      March 6, 2012 at 12:24 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Wow

    No – we're getting punished because of small-minded people like you!

    March 6, 2012 at 12:15 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Scottish Mama

    I noticed that the flat pad on the trailor of the man who tried to save the young family was still in tack. I wonder if this is the case on al the trailor pads. I would thind that going forward if this is the case, that pads have a vault poured with the pad to be the answer to saving lives in trailor parks. I would think that it would bring down injury and death numbers.

    March 6, 2012 at 12:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • WildWest

      I must say that the idea sounds like it has potential! The only misfortunate thing that you missed completely was that these people who live in trailer parks are there for a reason......$$$$$MONEY$$$$$$ Or lack of. They cannot afford a home that site on a solid foundation let alone have a concrete vault poured under their freaking trailer!

      March 6, 2012 at 12:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • Scottish Mama

      @WildWest- if the vault is poured with the pad it can be put on with the pad rent, ($10 extra) and I would think it to be enticing to pay less in insurance if you install them in your park.

      March 6, 2012 at 12:33 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Paco

    God knows all? Then he must know all of the little children HE just killed with this outbreak, no? Doesn't he know all of the elderly also laid to rest as a result of this outbreak that HE created? God loves you, but you better fear him for he will bring the wrath upon you. Sorry, I kind of lost religion when I helped pull hundreds of small children out of a collapsed orphanage after a major earthquake. One by one, the crying, moaning, and please for help stopped. This is the God that you worship so much? This is the God that you recommend we gie our souls to? God is a figment of your imagination based solely on your fear of death. There were thousands of God in the early days. Then, one by one, they were discounted as a result of science. The only thing left is to prove what happens after death, and because we can't, we must believe is a fairy tale to help us understand that death is a good thing,

    March 6, 2012 at 12:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • WildWest

      Not a bad explanation Paco.

      March 6, 2012 at 12:29 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Jeb

    Uh oh. If we don't start paying taxes to the UN, then the world will end. I was afraid of that.

    March 6, 2012 at 12:22 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Scottish Mama

    @Paco- we can only do what is humanly possible to help and save. We can build better, learn more and save more.

    March 6, 2012 at 12:24 pm | Report abuse |
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