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SURVIVE THE STORM: How 2018 compares to other severe weather years

Debris litters a property after a home was damaged by a tornado a day earlier in Beauregard,...
Debris litters a property after a home was damaged by a tornado a day earlier in Beauregard, Ala., Monday, March 4, 2019. (AP Photo/David Goldman)(KY3)
Published: Mar. 28, 2019 at 4:40 PM CDT
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Although 2018 was a devastating year for wildfires, floods and hurricanes, one weather phenomenon was remarkably absent from the news, violent tornadoes.

The storm prediction center in Norman, Okla. coordinates severe weather watches with our local national weather service offices. It was a slow severe weather year in 2018.

Dr. Patrick Marsh is the Warning Coordination Meteorologist at the Storm Prediction Center.

"2018 is the first year in which we did not have a violent tornado," said Dr. Marsh. "Which we classify an EF4 or EF 5 a violent tornado."

EF4 and EF5 tornadoes are historically the most deadly and pack winds over 166 mph. To get a tornado, first you need a thunderstorm. For a thunderstorm, you need warm, moist air. You also need something called vertical wind shear which will allow that thunderstorm to rotate.

"So in April we were really cold, then in May we were really warm, and so we kind of went from winter to summer, skipping spring," said Dr. Marsh. "And spring is when you would normally see violent tornadoes."

2018 was also the second quietest year on record for overall tornadoes. The only other year on record that even compares is 2005, in which there was only one violent tornado.

"A lot of that is attributed to the fact that in April and May we did not get a lot of tornadoes," said Dr. Marsh. "The rest of the year was about normal. But when you take two of the biggest tornado months and they are below normal, you set the tone for pretty much the entire year."

So does this mean a slow severe weather year again in 2019? Not necessarily.

"What I will say is there has been a lot of precipitation in California and in the southern Rockies and what that tends to do is it tends to set us up with at least one of the ingredients necessary for severe weather, at least here locally in the Plains," said Dr. Marsh. "Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri there is at least the potential for severe weather to last longer into the summer than we normally would because the desert has had a lot of moisture this winter and they are not going to dry our as quickly, until the hot, dry air from the desert will take a little bit longer to develop and kick out into the plains. The potential is there for storms to last. With that said, that is only one ingredient and there is just basically way too many variables."

But regardless of whether or not nationally it is an average year, or a below average year, Marsh says,

"It only takes one tornado to affect a person for that to probably be the worst year of their life," said Dr. Marsh.

The streak was broken this month on March 3rd when an EF-4 ripped through lee county, Alabama. More people died in that singe tornado event than all of 2018. The last violent tornado in the Ozarks was the Joplin tornado in 2011 that was rated EF-5.