Tornado season part 2 isn’t just Tornado Alley

Violent tornadoes have happened in all 50 states

FILE - Dena Ausdorn stands at the remains of her home after a tornado in Dawson Springs, Ky., Sunday, Dec. 12, 2021. In the desperate hours after massive storms struck, Gov. Andy Beshear took time from his duties to do what many of his fellow Kentuckians were doing. Again and again, he made calls to track down his cousin Jenny in hard-hit Dawson Springs. (AP Photo/Michael Clubb, File) (Michael Clubb, Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

When many people hear tornado reports, thoughts often go straight to the Great Plains and Midwest and it’s usually spring or summer. Tornado season has a part two and it includes the southern United States. The fact is tornadoes can happen anytime in any season given the right ingredients. So, what makes the months of November, December, and January the second season?

Cold fronts. Before the arrival and spread of arctic air, big temperature swings ahead and behind cold fronts can cause the severe weather that can spawn tornadoes. Let’s take a closer look.

Supercell storms are violent. In addition to tornadoes, they can bring hail, flooding, lightning, and even strong damaging winds. Not every supercell will spawn a tornado and there’s still a lot of research on how they form and why they go where they go or last as long as they do. Temperatures both ahead and behind the supercell can and have played a part in the development of tornadic activity. This is just one variable in the complex set up. Research meteorologists have even seen tornadoes form without a massive temperature swing. There’s still a lot more to learn.

The set up in the last week across the central United States has been one with clashing air masses.

The storm prediction center issued the convective outlook for Friday December 10th ahead of the night of destructive weather that spawned multiple tornadoes. (WKMG)

Across the south warm tropical air filters in ahead of robust cold fronts. Temperatures in the 70s and even 80s have been very apparent even here in central Florida. As the leading edge of the front moves into this environment it acts as fuel building a supercell storm which is a rotating storm seen on radar. The rising air moving up and into the storm pushes the horizontal spinning air that’s higher in the atmosphere over vertically. This is the beginning stage of a funnel cloud. As more warmth and moisture is drawn into the funnel it elongates. This spinning motion has to be apparent all the way to the ground and once it touches the surface it’s a tornado.

Central Florida is no stranger to tornadoes at this time of year. In January 2020 for instance, an EF-1 tornado hit Volusia County, while an EF-0 tornado hit west Lake County. The storms caused damage from Leesburg to DeLand, toppling trees, snapping power poles and causing damage to homes and buildings.

Archived Post from January 6, 2020: The NWS storm survey crews have confirmed an EF-1 tornado happened at 11:25 AM this past Saturday. The tornado touched down near Woodward Elem and continued along a 3 mile path ending Near Colorado Ave & New York Ave.

Keep in mind not every supercell storm produces a tornado and not every tornado event needs a supercell or a drastic change in temperature to form. Non supercell tornadoes have formed and are often short-lived.

Back to the second season location. As the arctic air spreads out in winter, this pushes the location where tornadoes can form further south. During the cooler months tornadoes have been more apparent in south and in states along the Gulf coast. Here, the air is warmer and more humid setting the stage for potential development.

About the Author:

Emmy Award Winning Meteorologist Samara Cokinos joined the News 6 team in September 2017. In her free time, she loves running and being outside.