Tornadoes aren’t exactly a rare occurrence in Pennsylvania. Statewide there are an average of 17 verified tornadoes each year.
However, this year we’ve already had more than 20… and it’s not even June.
Locally, there has been a few instances of severe weather over the last couple of weeks; some so extreme that it knocked over a church steeple in Lebanon and possibly even generated a funnel cloud.
Is there a reason for this seeming influx of tornadic activity recently?
Perhaps, but not necessarily.
First, how are tornadoes formed? Tornadoes form when changes in wind speed and direction cause a horizontal spinning effect within a storm cell. Upward moving air then tips this spinning air so that it becomes vertical.
Severe storms typically happen in the afternoon during the spring and summer. Unsurprisingly, this is when tornadoes are most likely, too.
The high number of tornadoes could be explained in a few ways.
One could be the presence of an El Niño.
An El Niño is what occurs when warmer temperatures persist in the eastern tropical Pacific. Warmer temperature then causes increased wind-shear that moves east across the Atlantic Ocean.
An increased wind-shear affects a number of things. It can cause milder winters and prevent some hurricanes from developing or strengthening. El Niños, like the one currently sitting off the western coast of South America, can cause changes in storm tracks and intensities as well.
In an article from PennLive, Meteorologist Sarah Johnson of the National Weather Service mentions it’s possible that a high of tornadoes similar to the one this year may not be as uncommon as we think. as records of storm data only go back to 1950.
Whatever the reason for the higher than average number of tornadoes, it’s important to be aware of what to do in the event one comes bearing down on your neighborhood.
Which means it’s time for a refresher in…
Tornado safety starts with knowing the difference between a tornado watch and a tornado warning.
According to the American Red Cross website, a tornado watch means that a tornado is possible. A tornado warning means that a tornado is already occurring or will be soon.
If a tornado is imminent, find a safe place for people and pets to wait out the storm. Ideal places are basements, storm cellars, and interior, windowless rooms on the first level.
If occupying a mobile home, seek shelter in the nearest sturdy building.
In the event that you’re stuck outside during a tornado, do not use a bridge or overpass for shelter. You are actually safer in lower, flat locations. Use your arms to protect your head and neck from flying debris.