Shocking: Tornado death rates in 2011 return to pre-1925 levels

Tornado deaths per million people in United States since late 1800s (NOAA)

In fact, this year’s death rate has not been matched since the 1950s and is most comparable to rates pre-1925, before effective mass communication, doppler radar and tornado warnings. Through June 7, 525 tornado deaths have occurred - the sixth most on record in a single year (with six months remaining, although most tornado deaths historically occur by mid-June).

How can this be, when tornado death rates have been declining for decades? Researchers will surely study what happend this past spring to get to the bottom of this. But, from what I can tell, a lot of it comes down to bad luck.

This was first time in decades that so many extremely intense tornadoes directly hit highly populated areas.

While anomalous in the modern era, this tragic toll inflicted by this year’s twisters demonstrates there is much work to be done to reduce the vulnerability of our population to tornadoes and improve forecasting and communication.

See this thought-provoking blog post by Alabama meteorologist James Spann on the communication issue and recommendations for improvement.

Jason is currently the Washington Post’s weather editor. A native Washingtonian, Jason has been a weather enthusiast since age 10.


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