Climatological Estimates of Local Daily Tornado Probability for the United States

Harold E. Brooks NOAA/National Severe Storms Laboratory, Norman, Oklahoma

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Charles A. Doswell III Cooperative Institute for Mesoscale Meteorological Studies, Norman, Oklahoma

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Michael P. Kay Cooperative Institute for Mesoscale Meteorological Studies, and NOAA/Storm Prediction Center, Norman, Oklahoma

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Abstract

An estimate is made of the probability of an occurrence of a tornado day near any location in the contiguous 48 states for any time during the year. Gaussian smoothers in space and time have been applied to the observed record of tornado days from 1980 to 1999 to produce daily maps and annual cycles at any point on an 80 km × 80 km grid. Many aspects of this climatological estimate have been identified in previous work, but the method allows one to consider the record in several new ways. The two regions of maximum tornado days in the United States are northeastern Colorado and peninsular Florida, but there is a large region between the Appalachian and Rocky Mountains that has at least 1 day on which a tornado touches down on the grid. The annual cycle of tornado days is of particular interest. The southeastern United States, outside of Florida, faces its maximum threat in April. Farther west and north, the threat is later in the year, with the northern United States and New England facing its maximum threat in July. In addition, the repeatability of the annual cycle is much greater in the plains than farther east. By combining the region of greatest threat with the region of highest repeatability of the season, an objective definition of Tornado Alley as a region that extends from the southern Texas Panhandle through Nebraska and northeastward into eastern North Dakota and Minnesota can be provided.

Current affiliation: NOAA/Forecast Systems Laboratory, Boulder, Colorado

Corresponding author address: Dr. Harold E. Brooks, NOAA/NSSL, 1313 Halley Circle, Norman, OK 73069. Email: brooks@nssl.noaa.gov

Abstract

An estimate is made of the probability of an occurrence of a tornado day near any location in the contiguous 48 states for any time during the year. Gaussian smoothers in space and time have been applied to the observed record of tornado days from 1980 to 1999 to produce daily maps and annual cycles at any point on an 80 km × 80 km grid. Many aspects of this climatological estimate have been identified in previous work, but the method allows one to consider the record in several new ways. The two regions of maximum tornado days in the United States are northeastern Colorado and peninsular Florida, but there is a large region between the Appalachian and Rocky Mountains that has at least 1 day on which a tornado touches down on the grid. The annual cycle of tornado days is of particular interest. The southeastern United States, outside of Florida, faces its maximum threat in April. Farther west and north, the threat is later in the year, with the northern United States and New England facing its maximum threat in July. In addition, the repeatability of the annual cycle is much greater in the plains than farther east. By combining the region of greatest threat with the region of highest repeatability of the season, an objective definition of Tornado Alley as a region that extends from the southern Texas Panhandle through Nebraska and northeastward into eastern North Dakota and Minnesota can be provided.

Current affiliation: NOAA/Forecast Systems Laboratory, Boulder, Colorado

Corresponding author address: Dr. Harold E. Brooks, NOAA/NSSL, 1313 Halley Circle, Norman, OK 73069. Email: brooks@nssl.noaa.gov

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