2016 Tornado Season: Quietest on Record
January 25, 2017
While the year brought flooding and other extreme events, 2016 was one of the quietest years for tornadoes.
This certainly does not mean 2017 will be the same.
The question is: What creates a quiet tornado season?
Look to our warm oceans. The Tropical Pacific was unusually warm during the 2016 season. For tornadoes, this is a good thing. Warm currents and air suppresses tornado activity.
Think of the ocean like a giant bath tub with water sloshing or oscillating back and forth. Not to oversimplify things, but when warmer waters slosh our way, we call it an “El Niño.” (Colder water oscillations are called “ La Niña.”)
In 2016, an El Niño lingered through spring into June, quieting the tornado season down. Traditionally, El Niños have fewer tornadoes.
By mid-November, the season broke all records for the lack of storms. Only 971 storms were reported and, when records were matched and double reports were eliminated, the US had only had 830 tornadoes.
By the middle of November, 2016 had to lowest number of storms ever recorded. SOURCE: NOAA
In fact, this was the quietest year in tornadoes since records started in 1954—and the fifth year in a row that tornado activity has been below average.
El Niño (left) vs. La Niña (right) Tornadoes and Hail Storms
El Niños have fewer tornadoes (top) and hailstorms (bottom) than La Niñas. SOURCE: NOAA
The El Niño ended by June, with La Niña (cooler) waters moving into the Tropical Pacific.
La Niñas are bad news for South Central states, increasing tornado and hailstone activity in Oklahoma, Arkansas, and East Texas, as well as Southern Missouri and Kansas. They also increase the activity in the Midwest, Mid-Atlantic and Northeast.
However, the good news is that the cold, snowy weather usually brings the tornado season to a close for most of the continent (except the Gulf, which is at lower risk, given La Niña conditions).
So, we hope you enjoyed the extreme lack of tornadoes in 2016. Some weather extremes bring good news!
Let’s see what 2017 brings.
About This Blog
Are you a weather watcher? Welcome to “Weather Whispers” by James Garriss and until recently, Evelyn Browning Garriss. With expertise and humor, this column covers everything weather—from weather forecasts to WHY extreme weather happens to ways that weather affects your life from farming to your grocery bill. Enjoy weather facts, folklore, and fun!
With heavy hearts, we share the news that historical climatologist and immensely entertaining Almanac contributor Evelyn Browning Garriss passed away in late June 2017. Evelyn shared her lifetime of weather knowledge with Almanac editors and readers, explaining weather phenomena in conversation and expounding on topics in articles for the print edition of The Old Farmer’s Almanac as well as in these articles. We were honored to know and work with her as her time allowed, which is to say when she was not giving lectures to, writing articles for, and consulting with scientists, academia, investors, and government agencies around the world. She will be greatly missed by the Almanac staff and readers.