COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — Severe storms have been frequent in Ohio and across the central and eastern U.S.
Tornado season normally ramps up in late winter across the Southern states, shifting north with warmer weather across the Midwest and Plains states in the spring.
However, a string of powerful weather systems have produced hail, damaging winds, heavy rain, and a record number of early-season tornadoes through the middle of April from Iowa to Ohio and as far east as New Jersey and Delaware.
The primary reason is linked to an incredible number of atmospheric rivers (31) — plumes of subtropical moisture stretching for thousands of miles — that have pummeled the Far West since late December, with storms reorganizing east of the Rockies and drawing additional moisture and instability northward from the Gulf of Mexico into the eastern half of the nation.
Several tornado outbreaks in the Ohio Valley have caused pockets of substantial damage, particularly west of Interstate 75.
Ohio has recorded 22 tornadoes so far in 2023, which equals the 30-year climatological average for the entire year (although that number rises to 25 calculated for the past decade).
Tornado season in Ohio peaks in late April through early June, though storms can occur at any time of the year. Five tornadoes were reported in association with a strong storm system on Feb. 27, which is exceptionally early.
Storm intensity in recent months has been fueled by very warm gulf water, averaging several degrees above normal. Activity started early in January in the southern U.S., with a preliminary count of 168 tornadoes–third highest on record. So far this year, there have been more than 500 reports of tornadoes, though some may be duplicates.
The key ingredients for strong to severe thunderstorms capable of producing tornadoes include warm, moist air, instability (forcing air to rise), and vertical wind shear (winds increasing in speed hanging direction with height).
Research points to more tornadoes occurring east of the traditional Tornado Alley in the Great Plains and Midwest due to a more favorable environment linked to climate change.
A recent study by the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society is projecting an increasing number of supercell, or rotating thunderstorms in the late winter and early spring in the eastern half of the country. with a decrease west of Interstate 35 in the Plains.
Spring weather in Ohio has warmed about 2 degrees Fahrenheit in recent decades. For every rise of 1 degree, the atmosphere has the capacity to carry 4% more moisture, resulting in higher instability and the potential for heavy rainfalls.
Storm Team 4 will help keep you safe when severe weather approaches. Make sure you download the free Storm Team 4 Weather App.