Technology helps AccuWeather predict tornado season
The arrival of meteorological spring on March 1 also marked the opening chapter of severe weather season across the central United States, a season that AccuWeather predicts could spin up a higher number of twisters and life-threatening storms than what has unfolded in recent years.
One of the key characteristics of the 2022 severe weather season is that the worst of the storms may hit areas located outside of the traditional Tornado Alley.
AccuWeather is predicting a total of 1,350 to 1,475 tornadoes across the U.S. in 2022, above the annual average of 1,253, which is based on SPC data from 1991-2010. This could also potentially be the highest tornado count since 2019 when 1,517 twisters touched down.
The area historically referred to as Tornado Alley encompasses a swath of the southern Plains to the northern Plains that includes central Texas, much of Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska and South Dakota. On its western flank, this traditional Tornado Alley includes slivers of eastern Colorado and eastern New Mexico and, on its opposite side, a narrow slice of Iowa. But in recent years, the area with the most frequent tornadic activity has seemed to shift farther east toward the Mississippi and Tennessee valleys.
AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Paul Pastelok and his team of long-range forecasters believe that there will still be twisters across the traditional Tornado Alley in 2022, but the worst of the storms and tornadoes may follow the recent trend and focus on areas farther to the east.
"Looking at severe weather this season, we do our research," Pastelok explained. This research entails analyzing the current weather patterns around the globe and comparing the current conditions to past years when there were similar weather patterns. This method can help meteorologists predict what is going to unfold in the future by studying the past.
Pastelok said when releasing the U.S. spring forecast that severe weather in March would ramp up fast, a forecast that has already come to fruition following the deadly tornado in Iowa on Saturday, March 5.
AccuWeather is forecasting between 120 and 170 tornadoes will touch down across the U.S. in March, which could be double the month's long-term average of 80 tornadoes, according to NOAA's Storm Prediction Center (SPC).
"There can be a few big events in March concentrated over the south-central Plains," Pastelok said, adding that there could also be severe weather events over the Gulf Coast states during the second half of the month.
Unlike last season when there was a lull in the middle of the season, AccuWeather predicts that severe weather will be even more intense heading into April. Between 200 and 275 tornadoes are forecast to spin up in April, significantly more than what unfolded last April, when 73 tornadoes were recorded, and well above the average of 155. The long-term averages are based on tornado data from 1991 through 2010, according to SPC.
The most active month for tornadoes will also coincide with when storms begin to shift eastward.
This shift will be related to two big factors: the expanding drought conditions across the Four Corners and the High Plains and a change in the jet stream that will influence where severe thunderstorms can develop.