NOAA reports record number of tornadoes in 2004

The total number of tornadoes reported in the United States reached a record high during the year 2004, surpassing the previous record by almost 300, according to officials at NOAA’s Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla. The findings are based on a preliminary review of reports filed by NOAA’s National Weather Service forecast offices, and compared to historical records dating back to 1950. NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, is an agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce.

“One tropical storm and five hurricanes affecting areas from Florida to the mid-Atlantic states, as well as several outbreaks in four of the last ten days in May contributed to the year’s total number of 1,717 tornado reports in the U.S.,” said Dan McCarthy, SPC’s warning coordination meteorologist. This tops the previous record of 1,424 tornadoes in 1998, and the total of 1,368 in 2003.

Joe Schaefer, director of NOAA’s Storm Prediction Center said, “Even with the record number of tornadoes, storm related fatalities were limited to 35. This shows that timely watches and warnings combined with our strong partnerships with emergency management and the media to convey that information does save lives.” The reported number of 35 deaths attributed to tornadoes is significantly below the usual yearly average for these storm-related fatalities.

Every year, an average of 1,200 tornadoes kill about 55 Americans, injure 1,500 people and cause more than $400 million in damage. Considered nature’s most violent storms, tornadoes can occur any month of the year with peak activity from the months of March through July.

“In 2004, record tornado reports were largely the result of an active hurricane season during August and September. Preliminary numbers indicate a total of 173 tornadoes reported during August,” McCarthy said. This significantly tops the previous August record of 126 tornadoes set in 1979. Other reports for August include: 120 tornadoes in 1994; 115 in 1992; 112 in 1993; and 108 in 1985.

Preliminary data indicate a total of 247 tornadoes reported in September. This significantly tops the previous September record of 139 tornadoes set in 1967, which was mostly attributed to Hurricane Beulah, which produced tornadoes in Texas and parts of Oklahoma. Other years with high tornadic activity for September include: 104 reports in 1998; 101 reports in 1996; and 84 reports in 2001. The average number of tornadoes in the U.S. during September is 47.

“The number of tornadoes associated with tropical storms and hurricanes was extraordinary and can be partially blamed for the high number of overall tornado reports,” McCarthy said. Tropical Storm Bonnie and five land-falling hurricanes -Charley, Frances, Gaston, Ivan and Jeanne- affected the mid-Atlantic and Southeast states during August and September. Tornadoes frequently occur in the northeast quadrant of northward advancing tropical systems or their remnants.

Hurricane Frances produced the most tornadoes for a tropical system with a preliminarily number of 117 reports. Frances tops Hurricane Beulah, which spawned 115 tornadoes in September 1967. Hurricane Ivan was close with 104 tornado reports, and a total of 16 tornadoes were reported in association with Hurricane Jeanne.

“All in all, the year began slowly and the number of tornadoes was below normal through early May, the heart of tornado season. The weather pattern became more conducive for severe weather activity during the last part of May when 445 tornado were reported,” said McCarthy.

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