Spring's Severe Weather Spawns Tornadoes; Warning Systems Save Lives

May 10, 2024

Average Annual Number of Tornadoes

rash of strong storms continued to sweep across the US this week. They’ve brought high winds, dropped hail, and knocked out power for thousands throughout the Midwest and South. Two people in Tennessee and one in North Carolina were killed by twisters on Wednesday. States from Texas to Maryland remain under tornado warnings through Friday. 

How often twisters occur in the US has ticked up only slightly in the past decade. But they've started to cluster more often, scientists say.  

“Now when tornadoes happen, they often happen in an outbreak (setting),” Tyler Fricker told The New York Times. Fricker is a geography professor. He works at the University of Louisiana Monroe.

An outbreak occurs when ten or more twisters form in a single day. Such was the case in the Midwest on both Monday and Tuesday. Prior to 2000, only 31% of twisters in the US occurred on days with more than ten twisters total. Since then, research shows that number has surged to 51%.    

The National Weather Service (NWS) has aimed to ease the damage and danger of tornado outbreaks. To achieve this, it issues three levels of alerts. These levels are tornado watches, warnings, and emergencies. Knowing what each means, the NWS says, is vital in keeping people safe.    

A watch means that weather is favorable for tornadoes to form at some point in the next ten hours. A warning is issued when a twister is highly likely to spawn. A warning is also issued when one has been spotted in the region. And an emergency? It means that there is an “imminent or ongoing severe threat to human life and catastrophic damage,” according to The Associated Press.          

Reflect: Does your family have a plan in the event of severe weather? What is it?

Based on the information in the infographic, which of the following states experiences the most tornadoes, on average, in a given year? (Common Core RI.5.7; RI.6.7)
a. Alabama
b. Oklahoma
c. Texas
d. Tennessee
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