Are Tornadoes Getting Worse? "Historic" 2024 Tornado Season Explained (2024)

At certain times of year and in certain parts of the world, tornadoes sprout up by the hundreds. For decades, scientists have attempted to tie a lasso around the wind and better understand what triggers the annual weather systems that carve a path of destruction across tornado alley. Our fascination with extreme weather systems extends even outside of the laboratory and onto the big screen.

In 1996, director Jan de Bont delivered the blockbuster storm chaser movie Twister, a contender for the best disaster flick of all time. This summer, moviegoers will return to a fictional version of tornado alley in Twisters. In the meantime, a version of the movie is playing out in real life as tornado season 2024 continues.

What is Tornado Alley?

Tornadoes can happen in regions scattered throughout the world, but they are most common in central North America, where the geography is perfect for creating perfect tornado conditions. Hot, wet winds from the Pacific Ocean crest over the Rocky Mountains, cooling along the way. When they drop back down on the eastern side of the mountain range, they meet up with winds from the Gulf of Mexico. Sometimes, when those two oceanic weather systems come together over the middle of North America, they team up to create twisters.

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The region where tornadoes most frequently pop up has become commonly known as tornado alley, but it doesn’t refer to any specific place. In the past, tornadoes have largely been concentrated over parts of Texas and Oklahoma, but the region has shifted over time. Today, they happen over a wider stretch of land including parts of Missouri, Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky, Mississippi, Alabama, and other nearby states. Tornadoes have even cropped up in parts of Wyoming, Colorado, and Utah.

When is Tornado Season?

Tornadoes are caused by weather systems which are more common during certain parts of the year. Typically, those warm, moist winds from the Pacific and the Gulf start meeting up in the spring and summer, generating an average of 1,200 tornadoes across the United States every year. However, it’s worth noting that our ability to detect and track tornadoes has improved over time, and we only have reliable data going back to about 1950. Prior to that, the frequency and intensity of tornadoes is less clear.

While you’ll continue to hear references to tornado alley on the news and in the headlines, in actuality the region of highest risk shifts throughout the year. During the cooler spring months, tornadoes are most common in the southeast. Peak activity will move into the southern and central Plains states in May and June before shifting into the Northern Plains states and Midwest during the summer. While tornadoes can happen at any time of year, they are most common from March to July, each year.

Are Tornadoes Getting Worse?

The data suggests that individual storms and tornado outbreaks are getting a little stronger and a little more frequent. In 2023, there were 1,423 reported twisters, roughly 18 percent higher than average. In 2024, we’re on track to land somewhere between 1,250 and 1,375, trending toward another higher-than-average year.

However, there is likely some noise in the numbers. We’ve gotten a lot better at detecting and tracking tornado activity, thanks in no small part to smartphones and the internet. Some of the uptick in numbers can be explained by small, weak tornadoes which might not have been captured in years past. That said, some of the increase is certainly real.

In April 2024, there were 300 recorded tornadoes, making it the second most active April on record, according to preliminary data from the NWS Storm Prediction Center. High activity has continued into May 2024, marking what appears to be the beginnings of a historically bad tornado season. At the time of writing, search and rescue efforts continue following a destructive tornado in Greenfield, Iowa.

As climate change raises the average global temperature, the number of days with tornado forming conditions is likely to increase. And if there are more opportunities for tornadoes to sprout up, we can expect to see more of them. We’re all about seeing more tornadoes, we just prefer to see them on the big screen.

Catch Twisters, starring Daisy Edgar-Jones, Glen Powell, and Anthony Ramos, in theaters July 19, 2024.

Are Tornadoes Getting Worse? "Historic" 2024 Tornado Season Explained (2024)


Are Tornadoes Getting Worse? "Historic" 2024 Tornado Season Explained? ›

In April 2024, there were 300 recorded tornadoes, making it the second most active April on record, according to preliminary data from the NWS Storm Prediction Center. High activity has continued into May 2024, marking what appears to be the beginnings of a historically bad tornado season.

Why have there been so many tornadoes in 2024? ›

At least three dozen people have been killed by tornadoes in 2024, including 23 since May 1. The extreme season is the result of a stagnant weather pattern that has sent a barrage of disturbances barreling across the central states.

Why are tornadoes getting worse? ›

Climate change is ultimately going to make our severe thunderstorm and severe weather season worse.

What state has the most tornadoes in 2024? ›

Texas currently comes in at the top this year with 69 tornadoes. Ohio follows then Iowa, Missouri, and Kansas. The strongest tornado of the year was rated an EF4 and touched down in Barnsdall, Oklahoma, on May 6 with ​peak estimated winds of 175 mph.

Have there been any natural disasters in 2024? ›

2024 in Progress…

In 2024 (as of May 8), there have been 7 confirmed weather/climate disaster events with losses exceeding $1 billion each to affect United States. These events included 5 severe storm events and 2 winter storm events.

What is the deadliest year for tornadoes? ›

The 25 Deadliest U.S. Tornadoes
  • 18 Mar 1925.
  • 06 May 1840.
  • 27 May 1896.
  • 05 Apr 1936.
  • 06 Apr 1936.
  • 09 Apr 1947.
  • 22 May 2011.
  • 24 Apr 1908.

Are tornadoes getting stronger due to climate change? ›

Global warming may well end up making them more frequent or intense, as our intuition would tell us. But it might also actually suppress them—the science just isn't clear yet. Neither is the historical record. There is no real evidence that tornadoes are happening more often.

Is the Tornado Alley shifting? ›

Tornado activity is now much more likely to impact the Midwest and Southeast, the study said. The shift has been ongoing since 1951, according to the study, which used information from two different datasets, each spanning 35 years, to determine where and when tornadoes have been forming.

What state has the most tornadoes? ›

Texas leads the nation in the number of tornadoes that occur each year on average, followed by Kansas. Texas leads the nation for the average number each year only because of its size.

Why does the US have the worst tornadoes? ›

Low pressure systems in the US pull warm, moist air from the Gulf of Mexico and cool, dry air aloft from the Rocky Mountains or the High Desert in the southwest. The states that fall in between those two regions end up being in the ideal location for severe weather to ignite.

Which state is most at risk for a tornado? ›

Texas is by far America's most active state for tornadoes, averaging 151 twisters each year.

Is the Dead Man Walking tornado real? ›

The term "Dead man walking" is a phrase used to describe the certain look of some multi-vortex tornadoes. The term is most commonly attributed to the 1997 Jarrell F5 tornado, but has been used to describe multiple other tornadoes: 1974 Xenia, Ohio F5 tornado. 1987 Edmonton, Alberta F4 tornado.

What state has the least tornadoes per year? ›

Average number of tornadoes by state (1997–2022)

Alaska, Rhode Island, and Washington, D.C. rarely see tornadoes — they averaged zero tornadoes annually over the last 25 years, according to our analysis of NOAA data.

Is 2024 a bad year for tornadoes? ›

2024 stands only behind 2011 in terms of tornado count. Although we already have had an active tornado season, the overall pattern is showing that the US is not done yet. For Nebraska and Iowa, our peak severe weather months are May and June, but tornadoes are still possible in July and August.

In what year did the worst natural disaster in US history happen? ›

The tropical cyclone that racked Galveston, Texas is the deadliest natural disaster in US history taking the lives of an estimated 12,000 people on September 18th, 1900.

What disasters are we overdue for? ›

Top Locations Overdue for Natural Disaster – A Survival Guide
  • The Cascadia Subduction Zone (Earthquake) ...
  • The San Andreas and Hayward Faults (Earthquake) ...
  • Florida's Gulf Coast (Hurricane) ...
  • The Yellowstone Super Volcano (Volcanic Eruption, Earthquake) ...
  • The New Madrid Seismic Zone (Earthquake)

What is causing all the tornadoes? ›

The key atmospheric ingredients that lead to tornado potential are instability - warm moist air near the ground, with cooler dry air aloft and wind shear - a change in wind speed and/or direction with height.

What year did we have the most tornadoes? ›

On average, 1,200 tornadoes happen in a year in the United States. The most confirmed tornadoes in a single year was in 2004, which had 1817 confirmed tornadoes.

When was the last year 5 tornado? ›

The nation's last EF-5 tornado struck Moore, Oklahoma, on May 20, 2013.

Are there over 1,000 tornadoes in the usa every year? ›

Tornadoes are more common in the United States than in any other country or state. The United States receives more than 1,200 tornadoes annually—four times the amount seen in Europe. Violent tornadoes—those rated EF4 or EF5 on the Enhanced Fujita Scale—occur more often in the United States than in any other country.


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