West Virginia becomes Tornado Alley

At least 11 tornadoes have struck West Virginia in the past two months as powerful storms tore through the Mountain State. It’s a number that’s almost unbelievable in such a short period of time, and it could rise as more becomes known about the latest observations.

At least two tornadoes touched down in the region over Memorial Day weekend, one in Putnam County and one in Jackson, Ohio. Severe storms knocked out electricity to more than 100,000 Appalachian Power customers, about 18,000 of whom were without power for days afterward.

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On April 2, high winds and driving rain caused extensive damage and flooding in West Virginia and surrounding states, in some cases snapping interstate billboards in half. Initially, the National Weather Service reported that five tornadoes struck the region that day. As further analysis was conducted, the number rose to eight and earlier this month the NWS confirmed that ten tornadoes touched down in West Virginia on April 2 alone, which is, unsurprisingly, a record for the state.

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So far in 2024, 15 tornadoes have hit West Virginia, surpassing the previous record of 14 in 1998, and the year isn’t even half over.

The Associated Press reported that West Virginia averages two tornadoes per year, although a high number of years may make that average a bit deceptive. For example, the 15 tornadoes this year could account for two tornadoes per year over a 30-year period. Be that as it may, tornadoes were fairly uncommon in West Virginia. But like flooding and precipitation that continue to surpass previous records, climate change has likely led to an increase in the number of tornadoes hitting the Mountain State.

Unlike record heat, rainfall, floods and hurricanes, there is not much of a direct link between climate change and more frequent or intense tornadoes. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has stated that part of the missing link is a lack of research, as tornadoes are more difficult to study than other weather phenomena. An article published last year by National Public Radio quotes NOAA and states that only 2 in 10 supercell storm formations produce tornadoes, making predictability and therefore data collection more difficult.

As tornadoes tore through four states in 2021, causing damage that stretched more than 200 miles (320 kilometers) and causing multiple fatalities, Central Michigan University meteorology professor John T. Allen wrote a column for USA Today calling for more research to how a warming climate was linked to such impacts. storms.

It was initially thought that multiple tornadoes may have popped up across the path of the damage, which would be similar, albeit on a very different scale, to what happened in West Virginia in April. However, it was ultimately determined that parts of Arkansas, Missouri, Tennessee, and Kentucky were hit by two long-tracked tornadoes, one of which traveled 166 miles through the region, which was almost unprecedented, especially for that part of the country.

What researchers can say is that a warming climate produces more storm and superstorm cells, which creates the potential for more tornadoes over a longer period of time in a given year, according to NOAA.

“Tornado season” used to refer to the spring and summer months in the Great Plains, with storms moving from south to north as those months progressed, across geographic locations called Tornado Alley. That distinction means less today, because tornadoes can strike virtually anywhere (they always could, but the recent frequency of such storms elsewhere has exceeded traditional limits) and the window for severe storms has expanded.

For example, March is a typical time to see more thunderstorms as warm and cool air currents begin to collide. The Weather Channel reported 236 that tornadoes struck a wide swath of the United States in March 2022, a number not seen since 1950.

In the NPR report, a NOAA official said tornadoes are likely to become more common in the winter months due to continued record heat.

CMU’s Miller noted in his column that tornado patterns had already begun to shift eastward. Oh, and those two long-track tornadoes he wrote about? They took place on December 10.

The tornadoes that hit West Virginia over the past two months are likely far from the last the state will experience in 2024. Until climate change is addressed in a meaningful way, severe storms, which cause massive flooding, power outages and damage to critical infrastructure, will remain limited. the norm.

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