19th Conference on Probability and Statistics


The Relation of El Nino Southern Oscillation (ENSO) to Winter Tornado Outbreaks

Ashton Robinson Cook, NOAA/NWS SPC, Norman, OK; and J. T. Schaefer

Winter tornado activity (January, February, and March) between 1950 and 2003 was analyzed to determine the possible effect of seasonally averaged sea surface temperatures in the equatorial Pacific Ocean, the ENSO phase, on the location and strength of tornado outbreaks in the United States. Tornado activity was gauged through analyses of tornadoes occurring on tornado days (a calendar day featuring 6 or more tornadoes within the contiguous United States) and strong and violent tornado days (a calendar day featuring 5 or more tornadoes rated F-2 and greater within the contiguous United States). The tornado days were then stratified according to warm (37 tornado days, 14 violent days), cold (51 tornado days, 28 violent days), and neutral (74 tornado days, 44 violent days) winter ENSO phase.

It is seen that during winter periods of neutral tropical Pacific sea surface temperatures, there is a tendency for United States tornado outbreaks to be stronger and more frequent than they are during winter periods of anomalously warm tropical Pacific sea surface temperatures (El Niņo). During winter periods with anomalously cool Pacific sea surface temperatures (La Niņa), the frequency and strength of United States tornado activity lies between that of the neutral and El Niņo phase. ENSO related shifts in the preferred location of tornado activity are also observed. Historically, during the neutral phase, tornado outbreaks typically occurred from central Oklahoma and Kansas eastward through the Carolinas. During cold phases, tornado outbreaks have typically occurred in a zone stretching from southeastern Texas northeastward into Illinois, Indiana, and Michigan. During anomalously warm phases activity was mainly limited to the Gulf Coast States including central Florida.

The data are statistically and synoptically analyzed to show that they are not only statistically significant, but also meteorologically reasonable.

wrf recording  Recorded presentation

Session 6, Statistical Climatology
Tuesday, 22 January 2008, 1:45 PM-3:00 PM, 219

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