A series of outbreaks that began in January has propelled the preliminary 2017 U.S. tornado count to its highest level for mid-March in nearly a decade.
Two dozen people have lost their lives from tornadoes so far this year, and the waves of severe weather have contributed to economic losses of more than $2 billion.
The preliminary tornado count for the year was 309 through March 20, according to Dr. Greg Forbes, severe weather expert at The Weather Channel. That is the largest number of tornadoes to this point in the season since March 2008, which had 327 tornadoes by that date.
January’s tornado count of 133 was more than triple the 20-year average of 40 for that month. A preliminary count of 112 tornadoes have touched down so far in March, and that already exceeds the entire month’s 20-year average of 76.
For the year as a whole, the tornado count through mid-March in the U.S. was more than double the 20-year average to that point of 111.
|Tornado Count||20-Year Average|
|March (through March 16)||112||36|
|2017 To Date (through March 16)||309||111|
The year’s largest tornado outbreak, so far, occurred Jan. 21-23 when 81 tornadoes swept through the South, from east Texas to South Carolina, Georgia and Florida.
The most intense tornado to strike the U.S. as of mid-March was an EF4 that carved a 50-mile path through southeast Missouri and southern Illinois on Feb. 28, striking just north of Perryville, Missouri. Peak winds were estimated to be 180 mph, according to the damage survey from the National Weather Service in Paducah, Kentucky.
Five homes were leveled in Perry County. The damage survey found evidence of multiple vortices as the tornado neared the Mississippi River. More homes were destroyed in Jackson and Franklin Counties in southern Illinois.
Some of the tornadoes confirmed in 2017 have been rare for how far north they struck so early in the year.
Massachusetts was hit by two EF1 tornadoes Feb. 25, one near Conway and another near Goshen. No other February tornadoes are known to have struck the state during that month in the historical record.
Just over a week later, Minnesota experienced a similar rare early-season event when severe thunderstorms spawned three EF1 tornadoes March 6. Those were the earliest known twisters for a calendar year in the state by nearly two weeks.
By the end of January, the death toll from tornadoes in the U.S. was already at 20. That was the most tornado deaths for the month since 1969, when 32 were killed, according to the Storm Prediction Center.
This year’s tornado death toll rose to 24 when four people were killed in a Feb. 28 tornado outbreak in the Midwest. That made the first two months of the year the deadliest for tornadoes in nine years.
This year has also already had more tornado-related deaths than we saw in all of last year. A total of 17 people were killed by tornadoes in 2016. That was the second-fewest tornado deaths in a year on record dating to 1940.
Economic losses from at least two separate severe weather events this winter have totaled more than a billion dollars.
This year’s largest tornado outbreak Jan. 21-23 in the South is estimated to have caused $1.3 billion in economic losses, according to meteorologist Steve Bowen of Aon Benfield.
Bowen said that a severe weather outbreak from Feb. 28-March 2 in the South, East and Midwest has also cost an estimated $1.3 billion.