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Weather Wisdom

Are tornadoes becoming more frequent?

Before the possible showers this weekend I wanted to write about the wild weather of Sunday and Monday across New England. Of course the F-2 tornado which hit Revere was the big story making national news and certainly the talk of many in the Boston area.

A lot has already been written about the storm and its evolution. While the Revere tornado was the strongest there were other tornadoes in New England Sunday and Monday with two weaker EF-0 tornadoes also confirmed by the National Weather Service in Wolcott, Connecticut (near Bristol), and in Limington, Maine, west of Portland. There was also an EF-1 Sunday out in Dalton, Massachusetts.

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Itís a myth that tornadoes donít occur in New England. Every New England State has tornadoes and in Massachusetts itís over 2 per year. The chart below shows how many tornadoes occur in each New England State.

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Our records for tornadoes only go back to 1950. Since that time 163 tornadoes have been recorded in the Bay State. Most of these have happened in the afternoon when the heating of the day is at its maximum. My fellow meteorologist Eric Fisher over at WBZ did a nice piece on this yesterday.

Tornadoes in New England are often smaller cousins of their Midwestern counterparts. Storms in the Midwest, because of the atmospheric conditions there tend to grown larger and stronger than those here in the east. The result, tornadoes born from those storms are usually more ferocious than those here. The Springfield tornado a few years ago and the Worcester tornado back in 1953 where of the size and scope of storms more typical in Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas.

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Many of our tornadoes in New England end up referred to as spin-ups or might be classified as a gustnado.

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A gustnado is a tornado like structure, but the spinning vortex is not connected to the center of the thunderstorm in the same way as a tornado. Meteorologically, they are different, but the winds can do damage. Classic supercell thunderstorms have a rotating core inside them and itís from this core of rotation a tornado is spawned.

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You've also heard about downbursts and microbursts, each of these phenomena can bring damaging winds, but the winds donít spin. This is why the National Weather Service must investigate the damage from thunderstorms before confirming the existence of a tornado. They can also tell the wind speed, width and length of time the tornado spent on the ground after visiting the site.

The Revere tornado was unusual for several reasons: First, it occurred in the morning which doesnít happen very often. Second, the tornado hit Suffolk County which hasnít happened in our 64 years of recording these events. Third the tornado reached F-2 strength on the Fujita scale which also is not common. So you might be tempted to ask, are tornadoes becoming more frequent?Ē The answer is no, but they are becoming better reported.

The fact that a tornado hit Revere isnít any more meaningful meteorologically than if the tornado had hit a few miles away in Everett. Then the storm would have occuired in Middlesex County which has seen many tornadoes since 1950. Of course a tornado anywhere is a bad thing and I hate the fact peopleís lives in any county anywhere become disrupted by these events.

Our perception of an increase in tornadoes is likely due to more funnel clouds being captured on video and these videos subsequently being shown as the lead in each subsequent newscast. I havenít counted the number of times the major networks morning weather leads with a story telling me I have to see this ďamazing footageĒ of a tornado or waterspout caught on camera. Cameras are now everywhere, so any weather phenomenon which previously went unnoticed or was just talked about among neighbors now makes it on YouTube and gets a hundreds of thousands of views from all over the world. I watched a crazy hail storm on a beach in Russia earlier this summer. A few years ago, how would I even know that existed?

This is a time in history when so many people take an active role in a certain agenda and use individual weather events as proof of said agenda. As consumers of information, it becomes harder to sift through the noise to know what the truth of what we are observing actually is.

For those individuals whose lives are temporarily or permanently impacted by these weather events, they are significant and will remain in their collective memories forever.
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