May was a record-breaking month for tornadoes, Gatehouse News reports. The past month follows April 2011 and May 2003 as the two busiest months for tornado activity since such records have been kept.
530 confirmed twisters touched down across the country between May 1 and May 31, and that’s just the number of confirmed tornadoes. Since tornadoes often manifest in rural areas, miles away from human eyes, and since they can appear and disappear in a manner of seconds, the number could be considerably larger.
In addition to the record-breaking month, a 12-day stretch between May 17 and 29 say eight or more tornadoes touch down on each of those days. By comparison, the previous record for such a streak occurred in 1980, when an 11-day stretch saw eight or more twisters forming each day.
As The Weather Channel reported in early May, this year’s tornado season got off to an active start in March and April, with an above-average number of twisters spawned in that two-month period. By April 30, 422 tornadoes are believed to have been spawned, compared to an average of 273 in that two-month period.
Although tornado season officially ended on May 31, it bears noting that tornadoes can and do occur on any of the 365 days in a year.
Unsurprisingly, most of May’s tornadoes occurred in so-called “Tornado Alley” — that is, a stretch of the central United States that is roughly bounded by a line extending through eastern Colorado in the west, central Missouri in the east, and extending north into Canada and south to the Gulf of Mexico. However, tornadoes can and do occur in all 50 states.
As USA Today reported earlier this week, 31 Americans are known to have died due to tornadoes and tornado-related causes this year. In 2018, that number was zero; that was the first year with no tornado-related deaths in the U.S. since 1950.
Is Climate Change To Blame?
That’s hard to say conclusively, according to Gatehouse News. Although tornadoes do occur outside of the United States, 90 percent of them occur here, due to atmospheric and geographical factors that scientists are still trying to pinpoint. The effects of climate change, by comparison, are felt most profoundly in the polar regions, as well as in coastal regions.
However, what weather scientists have noticed is that there are generally fewer days per year during which tornadoes spawn in the U.S.; but on those days that they do spawn, there are a higher number of tornadoes, as well as more-severe ones. Additionally, Tornado Alley appears to have shifted east somewhat, by some measures extending as far east as Kentucky. Whether or not that is due to climate change cannot be conclusively determined, as of this writing.