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March sets record for most tornado reports

After back-to-back tornado outbreaks two weeks in a row, March recorded 233 tornado reports. How many of these are confirmed will be determined in the coming days.
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After back-to-back tornado outbreaks two weeks in a row, last month set the record for most tornado reports during the month of March.

As of Friday morning, the current preliminary number was 233 tornado reports, breaking the record of 225 reports in 2012, with records going back to the year 2000.

While this is an important statistic, meteorologists stressed the difference between reported and confirmed tornadoes. Reported tornadoes must be confirmed by the National Weather Service, and that total number will be determined at a later time as surveys continue.

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John Plitsas wades through the remains of his home Thursday outside of Alford, Fla.Mike Fender / USA Today Network

More than 60 tornadoes have already been confirmed from the March 21-23 outbreak. This outbreak included a violent 160 mph EF3 tornado that struck parts of the New Orleans metro area, making it the strongest tornado to impact Orleans, Jefferson, and St. Bernard Parishes on record and just the second F-/EF-3 or higher tornado.

The tornado outbreak this week featured more than 400 tornado warnings and severe thunderstorm warnings that spanned nearly two-dozen states.

The strongest tornado confirmed so far from this outbreak was a 145 mph EF3 tornado that struck Springdale, Arkansas, early on Wednesday.

A destroyed gymnasium Wednesday at George Elementary School in Springdale, Ark.
A destroyed gymnasium Wednesday at George Elementary School in Springdale, Ark.Todd Price / USA Today Network

Jackson, Mississippi, Birmingham and Mobile, Alabama, and Washington were all metro areas that experienced tornado warnings nearby during the recent outbreak.

The upcoming weekend is forecast to see a lull in widespread severe storms, with the only area at risk confined to central Florida on Saturday. Residents in areas like Tampa and Orlando are urged to be on guard for storms that could be capable of damaging winds and isolated tornadoes.

The break will be brief, however, as next Monday through Wednesday could feature yet another multi-day severe weather episode for the exact same areas affected by the last two tornado outbreaks.

Climate Connection

Connecting a higher frequency of tornadoes to climate change is not as easy as say, connecting extreme heat waves or rapidly intensifying hurricanes, and this is due to two primary reasons.

First, historical tornado records do not go back very far, only to 1950. This smaller sample size means there is less data to make high confidence conclusions.

The second reason is that tornadoes and thunderstorms occur at a much higher resolution than coarser climate models, making clear connections difficult to resolve.

However, as more research becomes available scientists are gaining better clarity on possible links.

The strongest link is that the tornado alley may be shifting east, from the more traditional area of the Great Plains into the highly vulnerable regions of the Mississippi Valley, Tennessee Valley and Southeast.

This concept was first introduced by Dr. Victor Gensini, an associate professor at Northern Illinois University, and one of the top tornado experts in the country.

A large tornado strikes New Orleans
A car lies overturned among debris in the Arabi neighborhood after a tornado struck New Orleans on March 22.Kathleen Flynn / Reuters
Image: Aftermath of a tornado in Round Rock, Texas
A woman walks through a destroyed home in Round Rock, Texas, on March 22. Adrees Latif / Reuters

Warming temperatures, both air temperature and Gulf of Mexico temperatures, are also likely contributing to more winter-season tornadoes and causing tornado season to begin earlier, such as early March.

In fact, March 2021 and March 2017 also saw record-setting tornado reports before last month overtook the top spot.

A La Niña pattern has also been in place this Spring, which historically leads to more severe weather during the Spring months.