U.S. Tornado Count in 2016 Slightly Below the Annual Average

The year of 2016, there were a total of 1,059 tornadoes across the U.S. (with the month of May, 2016 having some of the more photogenic tornadoes). How does this compare to other years? According to the 2005-2015 tornado climatology, there was an average of 1,402 tornadoes across the nation. Tornado activity for 2016 was below the 2005-2015 average. 

Each year, there are about ~100,000 thunderstorms that occur in the United States. Of these ~100,000 storms, only about 10.0%, or ~10,000 thunderstorms, reach severe limits (≥58mph winds; ≥1.0″ diameter hail). Within these ~10,000 severe thunderstorms each year in the U.S., about ~1,000 of them produce tornadoes, according to tornado records dating back to the 1950s.

Annual trends of local storm reports (LSR) on tornadoes from 2005-2016. 2016 is labeled as the black line, with 1,060 tornadoes. Image credit: NOAA Storm Prediction Center

Tornadoes were reported each month in 2016. The most active months for tornadoes were May, April, and August, respectively; with more tornadoes occurring in May than any other month. All but 7 states had tornadoes, and the states that did not have reported tornadoes were: Alaska, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Nevada, Rhode Island, and Vermont, and The District of Columbia. Below is a chart that shows the number of tornadoes per month, in addition to the number of severe hail (≥1.0″ diameter) and severe wind (≥58mph) reports per month.

Severe and Tornado Reports by Month

MonthTornadoHailWindTotals
Jan2053120193
Feb13887638863
Mar935395661,198
Apr1208247551,699
May2391,5111,3283,078
Jun928252,9413,858
Jul1048964,6425,642
Aug1113781,4351,924
Sep36292623951
Oct23122170315
Nov6956239364
Dec1418121153
Total1,0595,60113,57820,238

*Tornado numbers are preliminary and are subject to change via NOAA SPC

Histogram of the monthly tornado reports from January 1st, 2016, through December 31st, 2016. Image credit: NOAA Storm Prediction Center

Out of the 1,059 total tornadoes in 2016, there were only two violent tornadoes (EF-4+ intensity on the Enhanced Fujita Scale). Both of these violent tornadoes were surveyed to be EF-4 rated (winds of 166-200mph). There has not been an EF-5 (>200mph) rated tornado since Moore, Oklahoma, EF-5 tornado on May 20th, 2013.

The first violent tornado of 2016 occurred on May 9th, 2016, near Katie, Oklahoma. According to the damage survey conducted by the National Weather Service in Norman, Oklahoma; the EF-4 tornado had estimated winds of 166-175mph. 

The second EF-4 tornado to occurred 16 days later on May 25th near Solomon and Chapman, Kansas. This was a long-track tornado that had a life time of 90 minutes, and moved 26 miles across north-central Kansas. A brick-framed home was completely destroyed and several meters of railroad tracks were bent by the tornado. Winds within the tornado were estimated by National Weather Service damage surveys to be 180mph. 

Image of the Solomon-Chapman, Kansas, EF-4 tornado that occurred on May 25th, 2016. Image credit: Ruffin McDaniel, and is of public domain use under Wikipedia as it was included in the National Weather Service damage survey.

Below is a chart that depicts the top-10 active tornado days for 2016. Note that it is exclusive of the intensity of tornadoes; rather, the number of tornadoes that occurred in one day.

Top 10 Active Tornado Days in 2016

RankDateNumber of Tornadoes
12/23/1652
211/29/1645
38/24/1635
44/26/1634
55/24/1633
65/22/1632
75/09/1631
82/15/1629
92/24/1627
106/22/1626

*Tornado numbers are preliminary and are subject to change via NOAA SPC

As mentioned above, all but 7 states experienced tornadoes this past year. Tornadoes can, and do, occur outside of the traditional Tornado Alley across the Great Plains, as well as Dixie Alley, the “second” Tornado Alley across portions of the Deep South.

Number of Tornadoes per state in 2016

State# TornadoesState# Tornadoes
Alabama57Nebraska47
Arizona3New Hampshire2
Arkansas23New Jersey2
California7New Mexico3
Colorado45New York1
Florida48North Carolina16
Georgia27North Dakota32
Idaho1Ohio31
Illinois50Oklahoma55
Indiana40Oregon4
Iowa46Pennsylvania9
Kansas99South Carolina3
Kentucky32South Dakota16
Louisiana31Tennessee11
Maine2Texas90
Maryland2Utah3
Massachusetts2Virginia12
Michigan15Washington6
Minnesota44West Virginia6
Mississippi67Wisconsin11
Missouri23Wyoming1
Montana4
State# Tornadoes
Alabama87
Arizona3
Arkansas23
California7
Colorado45
Florida48
Georgia27
Idaho1
Illinois50
Indiana40
Iowa46
Kansas99
Kentucky32
Louisiana31
Maine2
Maryland2
Massachusetts2
Michigan15
Minnesota44
Mississippi67
Missouri23
Montana4
Nebraska47
New Hampshire2
New Jersey2
New Mexico3
New York1
North Carolina16
North Dakota32
Ohio31
Oklahoma55
Oregon4
Pennsylvania9
South Carolina3
South Dakota16
Tennessee11
Texas90
Utah3
Virginia12
Washington6
West Virginia6
Wisconsin11
Wyoming1

*Tornado numbers are preliminary and are subject to change via NOAA SPC

One of the more memorable days from the 2016 convective season, as agreed upon among those throughout the weather enterprise, was the outbreak of tornadoes in western Kansas on May 24th. A supercell near Dodge City, Kansas, produced 13 highly visible tornadoes, including a long-track tornado that had a damage path surveyed at 17 miles in length, and was rated as an EF-3. Other supercells produced tornadoes across the western part of the State of Kansas as well, with 33 tornadoes occurring on May 24th. 


References

Annual Severe Weather Report Summary (2016), NOAA Storm Prediction Center. Retrieved from: http://www.spc.noaa.gov/climo/online/monthly/2016_annual_summary.html

NOAA National Severe Storms Laboratory, Thunderstorm Basics: Severe Weather 101. Retrieved from: http://www.nssl.noaa.gov/education/svrwx101/thunderstorms/

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