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Deadliest U.S. tornado season since 1953


Click the image for a look at incredible tornado video from the U.S. 2011 season.
Click the image for a look at incredible tornado video from the U.S. 2011 season.

Lyndsay Morrison, staff writer

May 26, 2011 — This has been a record-breaking severe weather season in the United States this year. The Weather Network takes a look at the numbers, and what it means for Canada.

Damage from a tornado that tore across Raleigh, North Carolina in April
Damage from a tornado that tore across Raleigh, North Carolina in April

It's been a horrific tornado season in the United States this year, with record-breaking numbers and extraordinary events to show for it.

First, it was a mid-April, three-day outbreak with tornadoes tearing across Jackson, Mississippi, nearing the St. Louis, Missouri airport, and striking Raleigh, North Carolina. Then, an awful late-April outbreak spawned nearly 250 tornadoes over 4 days, including the monster twister that roared across Tuscaloosa, Alabama.

In May, a destructive weekend of tornadoes brought devastation to Minneapolis, Minnesota along with an EF-5 tornado to Joplin, Missouri -- now the single deadliest twister in the United States since 1947. Then, just two days later, a deadly string of storms brought twisters to Kansas, Oklahoma and Arkansas.

Some of this year's records in the United States include:

  • April 4: Most severe thunderstorm wind reports on record
  • April 26 - 28: Largest tornado outbreak on record
  • Month of April: Most monthly tornadoes on record
  • May 22: Deadliest single tornado since 1947 (Joplin, Missouri)
  • 2011: Most tornado deaths since 1953

More than 500 people have been killed as a result of tornadoes in 2011. There have only been 6 other years since 1875 with more than 500 U.S. tornado deaths documented.

April 27, 2011 will also go down in history as one of the deadliest tornado days on record. The numbers are still being tallied, but preliminary reports show that 315 people died on that date in Alabama, Tennessee, Mississippi and Virginia.

WHY IS THIS HAPPENING?

“This spring's been a very deadly spring in the southern and central U.S. for tornadoes and there are two reasons as to why that's happened,” says Chris Scott, a meteorologist at The Weather Network. “Number one is that coming out of a La Nina winter where we have this large pool of cooler than normal water in the eastern Pacific, we tend to get a jet stream pattern than sets up and gives us active weather and thunderstorms and also the chance of tornadoes.”

“The second reason is one that you just have to chalk up to randomness or just bad luck,” Scott explains. “It's the fact that we've had big storms and violent tornadoes that have tracked right through major urban areas. That just happened in Joplin. A mile-wide wedge tornado that could have just hit forest instead went right through an area. That's why the death tolls have been so high with these storms.”

Joplin, Missouri was devastated by a tornado on May 22
Joplin, Missouri was devastated by a tornado on May 22

COULD IT HAPPEN HERE?

The powerful videos, pictures and stories coming out of the United States, along with the staggering human toll, has left many Canadians wondering if the same type of tornado outbreak could happen here.

Scott says an outbreak is possible, but likely on a lesser scale.

“When you look at what may happen in Canada, you can't just project the U.S. situation and move it north in the next month. It may happen, but likely we won't see the same intensity of storms,” he says.

Still, Scott believes that this year's tornado outbreak in the United States is a good reminder of how bad storms can be.

“We have not gone through a violent tornado hitting a Canadian city since the 1980's like in Edmonton and Barrie. But we're due, and it will happen at some point.”

With severe weather season now underway in Canada, emergency officials, safety experts and meteorologists agree that now is the time to prepare for the worst.

“Make sure you know what to do. Talk to your family. Know that the best place to go when there’s a tornado warning is in the basement. Find a place for the kids to hide there,” says Scott. “Also, be aware of the weather situation on a daily basis. You don't have to be a weather junkie, just stay tuned to The Weather Network. Have an idea of what we're talking about ... so that when a warning is issued, you'll be ready to take action immediately.”

With files from The Weather Channel

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