FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Keli Tarp
Six major tornado outbreaks occurred in the United States during 1999, with half of them hitting at unusual times of the year during the winter months of January and December the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported today. Those outbreaks included 216 tornadoes and caused 18 deaths.
The total number of tornadoes reported this year was 1,225, which is 200 fewer than last year when there were 1,424 tornadoes, the busiest year on record. The 1999 total ranks the fourth highest since the agency's records began in 1950. A total of 94 deaths occurred this year from 29 killer tornadoes.
In addition to cool weather occurrences, tornadoes hit four major cities this year: Little Rock, Ark., Cincinnati, Ohio, Oklahoma City, Okla. and Salt Lake City, Utah.
A total of 68 tornadoes on May 3 in Oklahoma and Kansas contributed to May's monthly total of 325, the highest for the year. June followed with a total of 275 tornadoes and January had the third highest total with 216.
In January, a record-breaking 216 tornadoes ripped through the lower Mississippi and Tennessee Valleys, more than tripling the previous record of 50 in the first month set in 1997.
"The number of tornadoes the U.S. experienced in January is extraordinary when compared with the 50-year monthly average of 20 tornadoes," said Dan McCarthy, warning coordination meteorologist of the National Weather Service's Storm Prediction Center, a NOAA facility in Norman, Okla. "The tornadoes occurred because of an unusually warm January weather pattern that brought moist air from the Gulf of Mexico at low levels in the atmosphere northward, which combined with strong upper level westerly flow. This tornado-producing combination is common in March or April, but not in January."
The year began with a tornado outbreak on Jan. 1 and 2, with 26 tornadoes in Texas and Louisiana that caused one death. On Jan. 17, 25 tornadoes killed eight people in Arkansas, Tennessee and Missouri. Four days later, six people died as 104 tornadoes struck Arkansas, Louisiana and Tennessee on Jan. 21 and 22, including the area around the Governor's Mansion in Little Rock, Ark.
The northeast suburbs of the Cincinnati area were hit by an F4 tornado at 5:30 a.m. April 9, which was part of an outbreak of 70 twisters that began the evening before and tracked across the plains from Nebraska through Iowa, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana and Ohio.
The most expensive tornado outbreak in U.S. history and the deadliest of the year occurred May 3 and 4 in Oklahoma and Kansas. In less than 21 hours, a total of 78 tornadoes touched down across the two states, with as many as four tornadoes from different storms on the ground at once.
An F-5 tornado, the strongest on the Fujita Tornado Scale, moved along a 38 mile path, from Chickasha through south Oklahoma City and the suburbs of Bridge Creek, Newcastle, Moore, Midwest City and Del City. With 8,000 buildings damaged, the Oklahoma City tornado is the most expensive single tornado in history, causing about a billion dollars in damage. In all, the tornadoes killed 46 people, injured 800 and caused $1.5 billion in damage.
The event proved the effectiveness of the watch and warning program in the modernized National Weather Service, showing improvement with an average warning lead time of 18 minutes for the event (up from a national 11 minute average), with some areas receiving more than 30 minutes notice before being hit. NOAA storm researchers estimate that more than 600 people would have died in the absence of watches and warnings.
No major tornado activity occurred after May 3. On July 24, three people were killed when a tornado caused a tree to fall on a car in Cleveland. A rare tornado in downtown Salt Lake City on Aug. 11 killed one person. Tropical Storms Dennis and Floyd caused small tornado outbreaks when they moved over parts of Virginia and North Carolina on Sept. 4 and Sept. 16, respectively.
The final tornado outbreaks of the year
occurred once again in the cool season. A total of six twisters
killed two people in Chico, Texas, on Dec. 2, and an F3 tornado
moved through Bentonia, Miss., on Dec. 9.