Extreme weather snoozer: no hurricanes, and low tornado numbers in 2013

September 6, 2013

As stormy as the weather has been in the U.S. and tropical Atlantic over the past few years, 2013 has been deadsville.

NOAA’s Storm Prediction Center’s tracking chart of tornadoes shows the 2013 count of twisters ranking lowest as far back as 2005.


Black line is 2013 tornado report tally year to date. Other lines represent other years and 2005-2012 average (NOAA SPC)

Going back further, a small group of years have been quieter.

“There have been 17 years since 1953 with fewer tornadoes through August than what we’ve seen reported in 2013,” SPC’s warning coordination meteorologist Greg Carbin says. “I think it is fair to say that 2013 is in the least active 25% of all years in the last 62 years.”

Of course, the year is far from over.

“An increase in tropical cyclone landfalls, or late fall/early winter outbreak could turn the curve back toward a more “normal” year,” Carbin writes on his Web site.

But so far this year, the 725 tornadoes reported is dwarfed by the two preceding years: 2011 had more than twice as many (1,777) twisters and 2012 (966) about 30 percent more.

Although 2013’s tornado tally is historically low, that doesn’t speak to storm impact – as residents of Moore and El Reno, Okla. can attest.

A similar dynamic played out in 1992 with hurricanes. Only six named storms occurred in what was overall a quiet season. But it only takes one storm to leave behind a terrible toll. 1992’s first storm was Hurricane Andrew.

This hurricane season, as Capital Weather Gang’s Brian McNoldy pointed out yesterday, has yet to produce a hurricane. We’re rapidly closing in on the latest date on record (back to 1963) without a hurricane in the tropical Atlantic: September 10 (from 2002, Hurricane Gustav formed that year on September 11).

Consider in 2010, 2011, and 2012 were all active hurricane seasons, with 19-named storms each, including the likes of hurricanes Irene (2011), Isaac (2012) and Sandy (2012).

Of course, there’s still a ton of time left in current hurricane season (which extends through November) and, again, it only takes one storm. So coastal residents should not let their guard down.

More broadly: what does this relatively quiet severe storm season signify? Not much in my view. There’s a ton of year-to-year variability in storminess – so I chalk up the inactivity to this just being a random down year.

Also, I think this is a discussion we can leave climate change – which is about long-term trends – out of.

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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