A series of tornadoes have struck the South and Mid-Atlantic US, making 2016 the worst year for such storms in the area since 2008, according to catastrophe modelling firm RMS.
On Tuesday and Wednesday Feb 22/23, a severe weather outbreak in the South and Mid-Atlantic US lead to 31 confirmed tornadoes, damaging over 340 buildings and mobile homes, causing 111,000 power outages, and killing at least 7 people across more than a dozen states, according to RMS.
At least six tornadoes on the Tuesday have been rated Enhanced Fujita (EF) 2 or stronger, including two damaging tornadoes that hit Lamar County, Mississippi, and Convent, Louisiana, in addition to at least EF3 damage from a tornado that hit near Pensacola, Florida
On Wednesday, the worst of the damage was reported in Tappahannock, Virginia, from one or more unconfirmed tornadoes. Damage assessments are continuing.
The National Weather Service reported that the severe weather outbreak had passed and there is no threat of thunderstorms across the US over the coming three days. With this event, the country has seen more tornadoes than average this winter.
As of February 24, the total number of preliminary tornado reports since January was 132, compared to the 2005-2015 average of 95. It also makes 2016 the most active year thus far since 2008, when the total number of preliminary tornado reports was 360 as of February 24, said RMS.
Given the large spatial extent of impacted and damaged areas, it is too early to issue any loss estimates from this outbreak, according to the firm.
Jeff Waters, manager, model product management, RMS, said: "What was unusual about this event was how far north the severe weather stretched. By late Wednesday night, severe thunderstorm watches were in effect as far north as Vermont and parts of Massachusetts.
“The last time western Massachusetts experienced a severe thunderstorm warning in February was 1997. Some may also be wondering about the connection between strong El Niño phase currently taking place in the Pacific, and the severe weather.
Waters said that the El Niño/Southern Oscillation (ENSO) phase may have some influence on the frequency of tornadoes, but it’s difficult to differentiate the large factors from the many small-scale factors.
“El Niño does not, by itself, spark tornadoes or severe weather outbreaks,” he said.
RMS, National Weather Service, Jeff Waters, Tornadoes, North America