It wasn’t your imagination — American weather was far more turbulent in March, with a record number of tornadoes.
Although most of the country is enjoying milder weather to kick off April, the month of March was pretty brutal. Preliminary numbers revealed at least 219 tornado reports. NBC projects a higher number for March, with a preliminary number of 233 tornado reports.
The 4-1-1 On March and Record Number of Tornadoes
- What’s the big number? Scientists have yet to verify all of them, but there were at least 219 funnels that reportedly touched down in March.
- Any normal March would spin out about 80 funnels.
- Last year also had a brutal March, with 191 tornado reports.
- What’s to blame for the huge number? A La Nina in the Pacific and warm water in the Gulf of Mexico.
Now, for some context. The average number of tornadoes reported across March each year is 80 twisters. But the past two years have put up really high numbers. There were 191 tornadoes in March, 2021. Now, go back five years. March, 2017, also was a tornado kind of month with 187. These are the three Marchs with the most tornado reports since 1950. That’s when they first started maintaining these records.
The National Weather Service must confirm the reports. The organization usually sends meteorologists to the sites of the reported funnels to verify if there were touchdowns, then give the tornado a grade based on the damage.
A La Nina in Pacific Combined with Warm Gulf Water = Perfect Recipe for Tornadoes
Here’s why this past March was responsible for so many twisters. The Pacific Ocean, especially around the Equator, is cooler than normal and is considered in a La Nina pattern. Meanwhile, temperatures in the Gulf of Mexico are nice and toasty. It makes for perfect conditions to breed severe, flooding thunderstorms and dangerous tornadoes.
In the third week of March, a cold front sweeping through the Rockies butted heads with a low-pressure system pulling moisture from the Gulf. Forecast models predicted these prime conditions days in advance. The weather event spawned dozens of tornados through the south. And these spots aren’t considered to be in the traditional parts of tornado alley.
More than 60 tornadoes already have been confirmed during this specific outbreak. The strongest tornado was an EF3 with 160 mph winds that decimated parts of the New Orleans metro area after the sun went down. Meteorologists documented that it was the strongest tornado ever to hit that area.
Meanwhile, parts of Texas suffered significant tornado damage. The Central Texas area, which is on the southern fringes of tornado alley, went through an outbreak. There were at least five documented funnels that dropped in the Austin suburbs on March 21.
The tornados also shifted more to populated areas of the southeastern United States.
There’s some more bad news to all this. March usually is the start of dangerous weather. But the worst storms come in April, May, and June, April accounts for 14 percent of all tornados, with May at 22 percent and June at 20.