The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

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March 15, 2014

Forecast: Storm season coming, will just arrive later

Greater risk of tornadoes may be in Deep South rather than Great Plains

JOPLIN, Mo. — This year’s storm season could get off to a late start, and this summer could be better for agriculture.

If both of those things happen, thank the cold.

“What the cold weather may do is push the severe weather into a later period of the March-June storm season,’’ said Tony Lupo, chairman of the atmospheric science program at the University of Missouri-Columbia.

“We are predicting it will be a little cooler going into the spring and that this summer will be a little milder,’’ he said. “We’ll get the rains that we need. This could be a better summer for agriculture.’’

John Gagan, senior forecaster with the National Weather Service forecast office at Springfield, said, “The pattern we have been in with these constant influxes of cold air from Canada has made it cooler than average. That’s why we haven’t seen much severe weather so far.

“I think this means we will have a delayed start to the storm season, but the storm track will evolve as it always does from the South to the North. It will just be later,’’ he said.

“I also think this means we’ll have a better chance of hail with storms this spring because mid-level temperatures in the atmosphere will still be cool.’’  

The repeated bouts of cold weather, including one early last week, have kept outbreaks of severe weather to a minimum so far this year. They also have cooled the Gulf of Mexico, a significant source of moisture for severe-weather outbreaks.

Said Gagan: “Water temperatures are below average in the Gulf for this time of year. Below-average moisture will have a negative effect on severe-weather production. It will take time for the Gulf to get recharged.’’

Off the mark

So far this year, there have been about 50 tornadoes, according to Greg Carbin, warning coordination meteorologist with the Storm Prediction Center at Norman, Okla.

“We’ve had one relatively big day so far, and that was on Feb. 20, when we had about 40 tornadoes,’’ he said. “If we hadn’t had that, it would be a record low start to the tornado season. That bumped us back up.

“In 75 of 100 years, you would have had about 130 tornadoes by now (March 13).’’

The last time the storm season got off to a slow start was in 2002. There were 936 tornadoes in that year. The annual average is 1,200.

“Our tornado activity has been well below normal,’’ he said. “But things can turn around pretty quickly. A couple of severe days in May could change everything.’’

Carbin said the nation was in a similar situation in March of last year with below-normal temperatures. Last year, there were 903 tornadoes with 55 fatalities.

That compares with 2011 when Joplin was hit by an EF-5 tornado that killed 161 people and injured more than 1,150 people. It has been ranked as the seventh worst tornado in U.S. history. In that year, there were 1,704 tornadoes nationwide, including five other EF-5s. These are the most powerful tornadoes with wind speeds in excess of 200 mph. The tornadoes caused record damage in excess of $10 billion, including more than $2 billion in Joplin alone.

In all, there were 557 tornado fatalities and 5,320 injuries in 2011.

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