published Saturday, April 26th, 2014

Tornado season off to safe start with April usually being worst month for twisters in East Tennessee

A truck lies overturned next to the pavement in a neighborhood along Cherokee Valley Road in Ringgold, Ga., on April 28, 2011. The area was laid to waste by a tornado the night before.
A truck lies overturned next to the pavement in a neighborhood along Cherokee Valley Road in Ringgold, Ga., on April 28, 2011. The area was laid to waste by a tornado the night before.
Photo by Staff File Photo.
Tornado Season
Tornado Season

April is the cruelest month for tornadoes in eastern Tennessee.

Records dating to 1883 show that April brings a huge spike in tornado activity in the 40 counties in eastern Tennessee, Southwest Virginia and Southwest North Carolina covered by the National Weather Service office in Morristown, Tenn.

But so far, so good. April 2014 has shaped up as a dud, as far as tornadoes go.

"We haven't had any, yet, and this is the peak tornado season," said Anthony Cavallucci, warning coordination meteorologist for the National Weather Service's Morristown office. "Tornadoes like that warmer, moister air. We've been pretty mild so far this spring."

Nationwide, the lack of twisters thus far in 2014 means the nation has experienced the lowest tornado activity and safest start to a tornado season in more than 60 years, according to Greg Carbin, warning coordination meteorologist for the Weather Service's Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla.

However, tornadoes were predicted to appear this weekend in a storm system expected to stretch from Texas to West Tennessee.

This year's tornado drought comes just three years after the Super Outbreak of 2011, a multiday swarm of 288 tornadoes that killed 316 people -- 234 in Alabama, 32 in Tennessee, 15 in Georgia, 31 in Mississippi and four in Virginia -- and became the busiest and third-deadliest in the nation's history. Damage from this outbreak totaled more than $4.2 billion.

Sunday marks the three-year anniversary of the day that the Chattanooga area was struck by the storms that killed upward of 75 people around the region.

So far this year, there have only been 20 tornadoes, nationwide rated EF1 and stronger, according to Carbin. Of course, 2014 still has more than eight months to go, but 20 tornadoes is hardly anything compared to the U.S. annual median of 139 tornadoes of EF1 or stronger, since 1952, with a record 465 such tornadoes in 2011.

Tornadoes have struck this year to the west and southwest of Chattanooga. In late February, Coffee and Franklin counties in Tennessee saw EF1 tornadoes, which have wind speeds between 86 and 110 mph. They were spawned from a line of EF2 tornadoes, with wind speeds of 111-135 mph, that hit Northeast Alabama, damaging two dozen homes and buildings in Fort Payne, Ala.

But such twisters have been rare.

This year's tornado season has been "very wimpy," said Chattanooga's WRCB-TV Channel 3 Chief Meteorologist Paul Barys. "It's about as wimpy as it's ever been."

"The reason it's been so low is we've had so much cold air," he said.

It's also been an exceptionally dry spring, Barys said.

While tornado activity is down, it's too early to be counted out. Twisters could come if the weather warms and the air moistens.

"It may [just] be delayed," said Cavallucci.

Contact staff writer Tim Omarzu at tomarzu@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6651.

about Tim Omarzu...

Tim Omarzu covers education for the Times Free Press. Omarzu is a longtime journalist who has worked as a reporter and editor at daily and weekly newspapers in Michigan, Nevada and California.

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