Nation Counts Fewest Tornadoes Since 1988

NOAA Says Be Prepared as Storm Pattern Intensifies

Only 11 tornadoes touched down so far in 2002—approximately six percent of the average 178 tornadoes the nation experiences by this time of year according to NOAA’s National Weather Service. But officials at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), an agency of the Commerce Department, are reminding Americans this week to be prepared as the nation enters its most active season for tornadoes.

“The storm pattern is starting to pick up pace with strong cold fronts coming through. I’d be surprised if the slow start continues,” said Joseph Schaefer, Director of NOAA’s Storm Prediction Center. “Things could easily turn around, making this an above-average year. With spring approaching, it’s just too early to say that we have lucked out.”

The position of the jet stream and resulting storm track prohibited tornado development for much of the winter, Schaefer said. “Typically winter season tornadoes are the result of large weather systems which cross the country, bringing cold air down from Canada and drawing warm moist air up from the Gulf of Mexico. The collision of air masses helps to spawn tornadic thunderstorms. This year, however, the storm tracks either stayed to the north or went right along the gulf coast, so we didn’t have the moist air and the cold air colliding in the right place at the right time for tornadoes,” he said.

Every year, about 70 Americans are killed by tornadoes with 1,500 injured. An average of 1,200 tornadoes cause more than $400 million in damages annually. Peak tornado activity occurs during the months of March through early July.

The average number of tornadoes over the past three years from January to March 15 is 178. Only three years since 1950 have seen fewer tornadoes during the same period: four in 1969, six in 1988, and eight in 1951.

Deadly March tornado outbreaks in previous years include a tornado that struck Ft. Worth, Texas, killing five people on March 28, 2000, and the tornado in Hesston, Kan., March 13, 1990, that killed two people.

NOAA’s National Weather Service advises to plan for tornadoes before they strike. NOAA’s Storm Prediction Center issues storm outlooks daily, indicating areas at risk for severe weather. These outlooks extend as far as three days into the future.

“If your area is in a moderate or high risk for severe storms, that is the time to be sure you have fresh batteries for your NOAA Weather Radio, and be sure your shelter is prepared with bottled water, blankets and pillows to protect you from flying debris,” Schaefer said. “When the NOAA Storm Prediction Center issues a tornado or severe thunderstorm watch, it means the atmosphere is ready to produce severe storms. By monitoring changing weather conditions, you will be prepared for the warning from your local forecast office.”


  • Develop a plan for you and your family at home, work, school, and when outdoors.
  • Have a NOAA Weather Radio with a warning alarm tone and battery back-up to receive warnings.
  • Identify a safe place to take shelter.
  • Have frequent drills.
  • Keep a highway map nearby to follow storm movement from weather bulletins.
  • On the Internet, go to for NWS watches and warnings.
  • Listen to radio and television for weather information.
  • Check the weather forecast before leaving for extended periods outdoors. Watch for signs of
  • approaching storms.
  • If severe weather threatens, check on people who are elderly, very young, or physically or mentally disabled.


  • In a home or building, move to a pre-designated shelter, such as a basement.
  • If an underground shelter is not available, move to a small interior room or hallway on the lowest floor and get under a sturdy piece of furniture. Put as many walls as possible between you and the outside.
  • Stay away from windows.
  • Get out of automobiles.
  • Do not try to outrun a tornado in your car; instead, leave it immediately for safe shelter. If caught outside or in a vehicle, lie flat in a nearby ditch or depression and cover your head with your hands.
  • Highway overpasses do not provide shelter from tornadic winds.
  • Be aware of flying debris. Flying debris from tornadoes causes most fatalities and injuries.
  • Mobile homes, even if tied down, offer little protection. You should leave a mobile home and go to the lowest floor of a sturdy nearby building or a storm shelter.

“Despite new technology developed by NOAA researchers that help National Weather Service forecasters provide better warnings, people still have to take action to protect themselves and their property,” Schaefer said. “As we enter the height of tornado season, now is the time to develop a tornado safety plan before you need it. We also recommend being aware of the forecast before the severe weather moves into your area by monitoring NOAA Weather Radio and local weather broadcasts.”

More information about tornado forecasting and research is available online at:

NOAA’s National Weather Service is the primary source of weather data, forecasts and warnings for the United States and its territories. NOAA’s National Weather Service operates the most advanced weather and flood warning and forecast system in the world, helping to protect lives and property and enhance the national economy. To learn more about NOAA’s National Weather Service, please visit