So far, 2018 has been an extremely quiet year for tornadoes, so much so that, for only the second time in recorded history, no one died from tornadoes in May or June, according to USA Today. It’s the first time that’s happened since 2005.
However, tornado season is far from over (and in fact, tornadoes can occur year-round).
The deadliest months for tornadoes in the United States are March, April, May, and June. In fact, one of the deadliest tornadoes in American history, the 2011 tornado that destroyed much of Joplin, Missouri, and left 158 people dead, occurred on May 22 of that year.
But for 2018, it’s been uncharacteristically quiet, tornado-wise. So far, there have been only three tornado-related fatalities, the most recent occurring in Louisiana in April, as The Weather Channel reported at the time. By comparison, on average 71 Americans are killed each year by tornadoes.
So what’s the reason for the staggeringly low number of tornado-related deaths this year? The most simple and obvious answer is that there have been fewer tornadoes this year than normal. As The Weather Channel reports, there have been 549 tornadoes reported so far this year, although it bears noting that that is a preliminary estimate that may likely change once all of the data has been reviewed. By comparison, there are usually over a thousand tornadoes to have touched down by this time each year, on average.
That’s been largely due to a jet stream pattern that has disrupted the usual conditions that produce tornadoes — namely, warm, humid air coming up from the tropics meeting cold, dry air coming down from the arctic. Oddly enough, that jet stream pattern caused tornadoes to pop up in places, such as Idaho, where they’re comparatively rare.
It also bears noting that it’s possible — indeed, likely — that tornadoes touched down in areas in which no humans lived for miles around, and those twisters went unreported.
There could be other factors at play as well, such as better warning systems as well as the populace paying greater heed to severe weather warnings. Similarly, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration spokesman Chris Vaccaro says the fact that everybody has a cell phone now has also played a role.
“Accurate and timely watches and warnings – including cell phone alerts – supported in part by improved radar technology play a major role in saving lives throughout the tornado season.”
Tornado season is never over, however. Though the hotter summer months are generally quiet in terms of tornadoes, meteorologist Harold Brooks of the National Severe Storms Laboratory said that a “second tornado season” always hits around November.