No Deaths Reported in High Tornado Season
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
April, May and June are prime time for tornadoes in the middle of the country, so the following is a remarkable piece of news. This year in April, May and June, according to NOAA, the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, the number of deaths attributed to tornadoes was zero. That has never happened in all the years since 1950 when they started keeping track of such things. Well, the next question is: Why? And joining us to try to answer it is Dr. Joe Schaefer, who is director of NOAA's Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Oklahoma.
Welcome to the program, Dr. Schaefer.
Dr. JOE SCHAEFER (Director, NOAA Storm Prediction Center, Norman, Oklahoma): Well, hello, Robert. How are you?
SIEGEL: First, were there unusually few tornadoes this spring?
Dr. SCHAEFER: No, the tornado activity this year, Robert, has been about normal. We're running about 6 to 700 tornadoes so far this year. The amazing thing is the historic or the classic Tornado Alley states were essentially unscathed by tornadoes. In the springtime, we had more numerous than usual tornadoes across the South. We even have had about a dozen in Southern California, believe it or not.
SIEGEL: But you mean down from the Dakotas, down through Nebraska, Kansas and...
Dr. SCHAEFER: Yeah, that's the area that there were essentially no tornadoes, from north Texas up through the Dakotas. What happened is the activity jumped from the South in January, February and March all the way up to Minnesota, Wisconsin in the mid part of May through June and just totally skipped the central portions of the country. There's been a few tornadoes, but not many.
SIEGEL: Well, let's get some basis for a comparison of that zero deaths in 2005 in those key three months. What has the death toll been in recent years, say, for...
Dr. SCHAEFER: In a typical year during the three springtime months, we have about 30 deaths due to tornadoes, so zero this year is really an amazing occurrence.
SIEGEL: Now are you inclined to say it's because of where the tornadoes were, a meteorological fluke, or why didn't just as many people die from tornadoes in those places as would typically in the upper and lower Midwest?
Dr. SCHAEFER: I think it's probably a meteorological fluke, but also, when you get down in the extreme South or the extreme North, there are fewer midsize cities, you know, the Wichitas, Dodge Cities of the world that are fairly major metropolitan areas, and there just isn't that many down to the extreme South or North tiers of the country.
SIEGEL: On the other hand, people do say that we have better means of warning people, alerting people to tornadoes than we used to have, true?
Dr. SCHAEFER: True. Our watch and warning capability has increased markedly. Last year, for instance, we had a 12.7, roughly a 13-minute lead time on tornadoes. So, you know, the warning comes out, there's 13 minutes for people to respond, and most people respond intelligently, get out of harm's way, and they're not harmed. So, yeah, the improved watches and warnings plays an effect, but to totally bring down from the typical 30 down to zero is too much just to say this was an effect of good warnings. I wish we could, but you know, if you claim credit for something that Mother Nature does, she'll get even someday, so...
SIEGEL: Perhaps next tornado season, you say. Yeah.
Dr. SCHAEFER: Right, so we'll let Mother Nature take the credit for this one.
SIEGEL: Well, I guess if I said goodbye by offering you congratulations, you wouldn't accept it on behalf of...
Dr. SCHAEFER: No, I don't think I would, but thanks for the thought.
SIEGEL: OK. Thanks a lot for talking with us...
Dr. SCHAEFER: OK, Robert. Have a good one.
SIEGEL: ...about tornadoes and this spring's death-free season, no deaths attributed to tornadoes in the key months of April, May and June. That was Dr. Joe Schaefer of NOAA's Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Oklahoma.
MICHELE NORRIS (Host): You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.