WASHINGTON — For the first time since record-keeping started in 1950 no one was killed by a tornado in April, May or June.
Normally those are the top months for tornadoes with an average of 52 fatalities, sometimes many more.
“That is prime tornado time, so it’s amazing,” said Joe Schaefer, director of NOAA’s Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla.
It was an unusual tornado season, when the storms never really formed over the major cities in the area known as Tornado Alley, Schaefer said. Tornado Alley starts in central and northern Texas and stretches north into Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska and South Dakota.
April was about average with 137 tornadoes but they were primarily in southern areas, Schaefer said. May was way below average with 134 tornadoes. While there were 299 twisters in June, they mainly occurred in northern regions such as Wisconsin and Minnesota.
“The important thing nobody was killed,” he said, citing a combination of improved storm warnings and the unusual year with no tornadoes in large Midwestern cities.
Dan McCarthy, a warning meteorologist at the center, called it “truly a unique situation and one that we are very happy to report.”
The previous low mark for tornado deaths in April-June was one in 1992. There were 17 fatalities in that three-month period last year and 43 in 2003.
There have been five tornado deaths altogether this year, four in January and one in March.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration officials stressed that killer tornadoes remain possible under certain atmospheric conditions.
“We are entering the prime time of year for tropical storms. We had 300 tornadoes last year during the tropical season, so be prepared, pay attention to weather forecasts and be safe,” McCarthy advised.
Tornadoes often occur as these storms come ashore. Tropical Storm Cindy is currently heading toward the Gulf Coast and Tropical Storm Dennis is in the Caribbean moving northwest.
For this year so far there have been 665 reports of tornadoes, close to normal but well below the record 964 tornadoes from January through June last year.
A study published last month in the journal Weather and Forecasting calculated that new radars installed by the National Weather Service in the 1990s are saving nearly 80 lives a year that would otherwise be lost to tornadoes.
The new equipment allowed forecasters to issue warnings for 60 percent of tornadoes, up from 35 percent before the instruments were installed, and the average lead time for warnings rose from 5.3 minutes to 9.5 minutes.