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By Zach Butler, Meteorologist Updated 10 days ago June 6, 2024

Active Start to the 2024 Tornado Season

The 2024 tornado season has started very active with above-normal occurrences of tornadoes across the United States. Several of these tornadoes have been deadly, with towns directly hit by the strong tornadoes. Let's look at the numbers behind the 2024 tornado season, the weather that caused this, and images both on the ground and from satellites of a couple of tornadoes.

2024 Tornado Season by the Numbers

As of June 1, 2024 there have been 911 - 1,103 preliminary tornado reports thus far in 2024. These preliminary reports are still being verified by the National Weather Service (NWS) before an exact number is reported.

In April 2024, the preliminary number of tornadoes was 384, which is more than double the April 1991-2020 average of 182 tornadoes. This is the second-highest April count on record, with the most tornadoes reported since the legendary April 2011 outbreak. Around 20 tornadoes in April 2024 were an EF2 or greater.

The Enhanced Fujita Scale or EF Scale is used to assign a tornado a 'rating' based on estimated wind speeds and related damage. An EF2 tornado is associated with winds greater than 111 mph.

In May 2024, the preliminary number of tornadoes was 556, which is more than double the May 1991-2020 average of 276 tornadoes. Around 31 tornadoes in May 2024 were an EF2 or greater.

Below is a look at the April (top) and May (bottom) 2024 preliminary tornado reports across the US. 

Unfortunately, these tornados have been deadly and impacted several cities and towns across the US. There have been 13 fatalities as of May 1, 2024.

Weather Behind the Tornado Activity

A strong South Pacific jet stream has driven the above-normal tornado activity. The jet stream this spring has been stronger than normal across the Rocky Mountains. This has helped strengthen storm systems moving across the mountains, which is needed to provide an environment favorable for tornadoes. Below is a look at the jet stream anomaly map for April and May 2024. 

This stronger jet stream has been accompanied by above-normal dew points and temperatures, which have been transported from the Gulf of Mexico through the Midwest. Below is a look at the relative humidity (RH - similar to dew point) and air temperature anomaly map for April and May 2024. 

The above-normal humidity and air temperatures have helped fuel storm systems moving across the Rockies due to the transport from the Gulf of Mexico. Below is a look at the wind direction and speed (vector) map for April and May 2024. 

There has been a significant low-level jet stream from the Gulf of Mexico into the Midwest and Eastern US for most of April and May. This has allowed low-level wind shear to help form strong rotating storms, known as supercells.

  • Low-level means the lowest portion of the atmosphere from around 6,000 feet to the surface.

The combination of the stronger jet stream and warm and moist air with the wind directions helps enhance the wind shear across the Midwest, which is vital for tornadoes.

  • Wind shear is when the wind speed changes direction and or speed with height.
  • Directional wind shear (change with height) is critical to create spin in the atmosphere for tornadoes to develop. 

The atmospheric setup has been textbook for widespread and strong tornadoes to form this spring, which we have seen repeatedly across the Midwest!

Photos and Satellite Images

The images from tornadic activity have been jaw-dropping and humbling. Below is a look at an EF-3 tornado that went through Lancaster County, Nebraska on April 26, 2024 (top) and an EF-3 tornado that went through Douglas, Washington, and Harrison Counties Nebraska on April 26, 2024 (bottom).

Unfortunately, these tornadoes have caused many fatalities. Below is a look at the damage from the EF-3 tornado that went through Elkhorn, Nebraska on April 26, 2024.

April 26, 2024 was a significant tornado outbreak across the Midwest. There were many other notable days of strong and damaging tornados this spring, including May 21, 2024, when an EF-4 tornado stuck in Greenfield, Iowa, and the surrounding areas. 3-days later on May 24, 2024, a satellite above Earth captured the damage path.

Severe Weather Forecasting Tools

OpenSnow has a new lightning risk and hail size tool that looks at the most current and previous 2 hours of data across the US. The lightning risk map shows the location of recent strikes and the percentage chance of lightning occurring over an area in the next 60 minutes. The hail size map shows the estimated hail size in inches.

Lightning is always associated with tornadoes and hail is often associated with tornadoes. Both lightning and hail occur together and can be a life-threatening hazard. Another tool you can use to know when and where severe weather will impact you is the OpenSnow current and forecast radar.

Thanks for reading and stay safe!

Zach Butler

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About The Author

Zach Butler

Meteorologist

Zach Butler is currently a PhD student in Water Resources Science at Oregon State University. He just finished his master's in Applied Meteorology at Plymouth State University in New Hampshire. Originally from Maryland, he has grown up hiking and skiing up and down the East Coast. When not doing coursework, he enjoys cooking and exploring the pacific northwest on his bike.

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