From: Andy Soos, ENN
Published January 7, 2010 02:40 PM

In Darkest WInter Night Tornadoes Can Strike

Tornadoes are deadly threats.  When they are shrouded in darkness, nighttime winter tornadoes can be far more terrifying. Given the dangers, forecasters with NOAA’s National Weather Service are increasing efforts to alert people of a potential threat in their area before they go to sleep. The NOAA Storm Prediction Center, in conjunction with local National Weather Service offices across the country, is now issuing new public severe weather outlooks when forecast conditions are favorable for strong and violent tornadoes to occur overnight. When issued the outlook will be available online.

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Winter tornadoes are not as rare as you may think. Anyone with Lilapsophobia (the fear of tornadoes) certainly has something to be afraid even in winter and at night. For example, on February 5th and 6th, 2008, a series of massive tornadoes struck at least 5 Southern states (Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky, Mississippi and Alabama) causing over 50 deaths and 150 injuries.

Tornadoes most often occur in the US midwest though they can anywhere in the world. Tornado Alley stretches from northern Texas to the Dakotas. In the US about a thousand tornadoes are recorded annually.

The NOAA Storm Prediction Center, in conjunction with local National Weather Service offices, is now issuing new public severe weather outlooks when forecast conditions are favorable for strong and violent tornadoes to occur overnight. When issued the outlook will be available online.

"Night time tornadoes pose a particular challenge since many people are asleep and not aware of watches and warnings," said Joseph Schaefer, director of NOAA’s Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla. "We added this extra outlook to highlight potential threats while people are still awake."

Following the February 2008 Super Tuesday Tornado outbreak in Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky and Alabama, it was found that most people minimize the threat of tornadoes in winter because it is outside the traditional tornado season. After all snow blizzards happen in winter and not tornadoes. However, these tornadoes do occur in winter and at night though rarely.

"We know tornadoes can occur anywhere and at any time under the right conditions," Schaefer said.  "Residents across the southern U.S. need to be extra vigilant in watching weather developments during this winter season."

The strongest winter tornado activity in the United States this 2009-2010 winter is expected to be over Florida and the Gulf Coast region due to the current El Niño, Schaefer further warned.

Chances of a tornado increase along the Gulf Coast may happen with an EL Nino pattern where warming of the sea surface occurs. As these waters warm, they force the development of a stronger than average jet stream emanating from the eastern Pacific and extending across the southern tier of the United States. The impact of this jet stream is most apparent from January through late March when it enhances severe thunderstorm and tornado potential over coastal states.

Nearly 80 percent of cool-season tornado deaths in Florida occur during El Niños. This type of deadly nighttime tornado activity occurred as recently as February 2007 in Florida when an outbreak caused 21 fatalities and 76 injuries, and February 1998, when tornadoes killed 42 people and injured 259. Other recent deadly cold season tornado outbreaks have affected parts of Georgia, Texas and Mississippi.

A NOAA Weather Radio at your bedside is the best way to know when a tornado is on the way. These units receive a special tone that activates the radio alarm before broadcasting emergency announcements, such as a tornado warning issued. This feature is especially crucial when severe storms or other events occur at night when most people are sound asleep.

For further information go to: http://www.noaanews.noaa.gov/stories2009/20091214_tornado.html

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