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USA: Threat of rare Christmas tornado outbreak

It’s been nearly 40 years since any part of the US has been threatened with such a large tornado outbreak on Christmas day.

But, the National Weather Service’s Storm Prediction Center (SPC) says the possibility exists for several strong, long-lasting tornadoes in parts of the southeastern US.

At great risk is central Louisiana, southern Mississippi and west-central Alabama.  But severe thunderstorms could happen as far west as Texas and as far east as Georgia.

The severe thunderstorms could develop before sunrise Christmas morning (late tonight NZ time) in east and southeast Texas.  During the afternoon, severe thunderstorms (and the ingredients to make more severe thunderstorms) spreads east into Mississippi and Alabama.  Georgia and western Florida (called the Panhandle) could see severe weather Christmas night.

The whole threat then shifts further east for Wednesday with the lower half of the US east coast under the threat for severe weather.

Tornadoes on Christmas Day are pretty rare.

According to Severe Weather Expert, Dr. Greg Forbes, there have been 8 Christmas Days since 1950 with tornadoes somewhere in the U.S, summing up to 32 Christmas Day tornadoes in 6 states (Fla., Ga., Tenn., N.C., La., W.V.)  

The last time this happened was 2006, when six tornadoes struck Florida and south Georgia. 

Some other Christmas Day tornado facts from Dr. Forbes, with data since 1950:

  • Largest outbreak:  12 tornadoes in Fla., Ga., La. in 1969
  • Strongest tornado:  F3
  • Costliest tornado outbreak:  $33 million in 2006
  • Only deadly tornado:  1969 (Louisiana)

According to Patrick Marsh, Research Meteorologist with the National Severe Storms Laboratory, if the Storm Prediction Center issues a “moderate” risk for severe thunderstorms in their “Day 1” outlook early Tuesday morning, that would only be the second such Day 1 moderate risk issued on Christmas Day in records dating to 1973.  Christmas Day 1975 was the only other such moderate risk issued on the holiday. 

Homepage image/ National Severe Storms Laboratory

Story images/ The Weather Channel

By Howard Joseph, and The Weather Channel


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