As we begin spring here in Tornado Alley, there are promising signs on the horizon. We are currently ahead of 2018’s tornado count up to late March, with a few significant events in the southeastern US in the books. March 3rd in particular was notable, with devastating EF4 impacting Lee County, AL, along with several other strong tornadoes that day. March 12th brought the first Plains tornado event of the year with a few tornadoes in eastern NM and TX (a couple photogenic ones too). On the 23rd and 24th, supercells producing large hail impacted the OKC metro and the DFW metro. This has already been a far cry from 2018’s misery. The long range signs look pretty good, with another system possible at the end of this week. I believe my seasonal outlook, which called for a decent-to-great Plains season, is still on track. The signs for April-May-June are in general pretty encouraging. Perhaps most encouraging is the near total lack of drought across the entire Plains; all of Kansas in particular is near record levels of soil moisture. Hopefully, I will get my first solid chase of the year in the next few weeks.
2018 has been a fairly quiet year, both in terms of chase opportunities and overall tornadoes. Currently, the US is nearing 80 tornadoes so far this year, which is below average. Two people have died from tornadoes so far, both on February 24th (1 in Arkansas and 1 in Kentucky). On March 19th, a Moderate risk of severe weather was issued with a 15% significant tornado risk outlined, mostly for northern Alabama. The first EF3 tornado in the US since May 16th, 2017 touched down in Calhoun County, Alabama and struck Jacksonville, causing considerable damage at Jacksonville State University. Although this tornado and several weaker ones damaged populated areas, fortunately no one was killed that day. In terms of chasing, it’s been a pretty lean first three months. In fact, it’s only been in the last week that any chasers caught any remotely interesting storms. On both March 16th and 17th, there were some photogenic supercells in central Texas. Then, on the 19th, some chasers had good video of an EF1 tornado that struck Russellville, Alabama. Compared to last year, which had the significant event on February 28th and several other chase days, we’ve seen a slower start to the chase season.
Starting this weekend, a seemingly more active pattern for chasing will develop across the southern Plains states. An upper-air trough will move into the southwestern US, setting the stage for several days of active weather for KS/OK/TX. Sunday may be the day with the most potential, especially across Oklahoma, but other days may prove fruitful for chasers. Right now, I have my eye on Monday, which looks very similar to my last real chase, April 19th, 2017. Hopefully, I’ll get to try out my new camera in the field very soon.
It’s already May and I only have one decent chase to show for it. Pretty disappointing chase season so far, as none of the early season events were very chaseable and April was largely a bust around here. While there was tornadic activity in the U.S. during the last week of April, the warm/moist air stayed well to the south of Kansas and there was nothing to chase. The next week+ also look pretty bleak as far as severe weather is concerned, not just around here but across the Plains. There are some hints that an active pattern will start to return somewhere in the May 10th-14th timeframe, with activity possibly picking up considerably by the third week of May, but this is pretty far out. I’m hoping for some better chase days ahead.