By Chris Gilberti | April 11, 2022
Spring is finally arriving in New York, and with that comes an increase of threat for severe weather. New York can see all types of spring weather, including strong thunderstorms that bring with them powerful winds, hail, and even some tornados. Many have noted a drastic increase in the amount of tornadoes reported across the country. Therefore, many have begun to wonder if New York State could also see an increase in tornado activity.
Luckily for us, New York is not about to become the new Kansas or Texas. This should not put anyone’s mind at ease, however, as the number of tornadoes has increased pretty drastically in New York State in the recent past. NOAA research shows an increase from an average of 1.2 tornadoes per year in the 1950’s to as high as 16 per year in the 1990’s. Although this is nowhere near the levels seen in Texas, for example, which has averaged 155 tornadoes per year from 1991 to 2010, this increase is certainly cause for concern.
This map shows the average annual tornadoes experienced by each state between 1991-2010 Credit: NOAA
Why might this increase be occurring here in New York State? Well, one main reason is the change in climate across the U.S. since the 20th century. The area typically designated as tornado alley, including much of the central United States, has been becoming increasingly dry over the past few decades. This makes it harder for severe weather outbreaks to occur. The Northeast has been the region in the U.S. with the most rapid increase in moisture, meaning it is easier for severe weather events to spark up – allowing for the formation of more tornadoes.
Generally, an increase in both temperature and moisture have been observed in areas east of the Mississippi River since the 20th century, which are two very important factors for tornado formation. This is particularly concerning as areas east of the Mississippi are some of the most densely populated in the country, leading to a greater risk for a larger population.
Along with the increase of other types of severe weather in the Northeast, such as tropical storms, hurricanes, and flash floods, tornadoes will continue to become a greater danger in New York State. There are still some things working in our favor, including terrain. It is much easier for tornadoes to form over large expanses of flat lands, which is partly what makes the Great Plains such a hotbed for tornado activity. The Northeast is very different from the plains in this way, as there are multiple mountain ranges and valleys across the region that act to make it more difficult for tornadoes to form. This is especially true in more inland locations such as Albany, which are surrounded by mountains on just about all sides. Areas near the coast tend to have less terrain, and therefore have borne the brunt of the increase in tornado events. Very destructive tornadoes were reported along with the remnants of Hurricane Ida in New Jersey and Maryland, for example.
Events like the tornado outbreak associated with the remnants of Hurricane Ida used to be once-in-a-lifetime events, but are now happening on a scale that is significantly more frequent. With the increase in these types of events in the northeast U.S., it is likely that the amount of tornadoes and other severe weather occurrences will continue to increase – endangering the large population located in the northeast U.S. Luckily there are some factors such as terrain that will mitigate this effect in the Albany/Capital Region of New York.