Thursday, November 23, 2017
Tampa Bay Weather

Local meteorologists say study naming Florida most tornado-prone state is misleading

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Florida has seen more tornadoes per square mile than any other state since the 1950s, according to an analysis published by Weather Channel tornado expert Greg Forbes.

But that's only part of the story.

Florida's geographic conditions are perfect for breeding tornadoes at any point during the year, but the tornadoes tend to be small, weak and short-lived.

Because the Weather Channel's analysis omits this information, several local meteorologists called the list misleading and panic-inducing.

"We're not exactly tornado alley here," said Bay News 9 meteorologist Mike Clay. "There certainly can be tornadoes, but to make that list that makes it seem like we are just getting tornadoes left and right — that's just not right."

Forbes said he meant only to raise awareness that twisters can strike anywhere at any time.

Were the list crafted differently, ranking states by the strength and duration of their tornadoes rather than frequency, Forbes said, Florida would not rank in the top 20.

"The takeaway is Florida gets more tornadoes than you realize," he said. "But the blessing of that is they're not real high impact."

Forbes had the idea for the ranking after tornadoes tore through southern Indiana and eastern Kentucky's Appalachian foothills this month. With images from Alabama and Missouri after tornadoes wiped out entire towns last year still burned in his memory, he wanted to show no state is immune.

Peak tornado month for the Tampa Bay area is July, but strong storms typically form in February, according to the study.

National Weather Service data shows that more than 50 July twisters have hit the area since 1950.

Unlike their Midwestern counterparts, many twisters that hit Florida are water spouts that find their way onto land, creating "land spouts," said Harold Brooks, a scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Severe Storms Laboratory.

These are relatively harmless and quick to dissipate, he said.

Clay worried the analysis would cause Tampa Bay residents to fret unnecessarily.

"No one should panic," he said. "But we shouldn't completely blow it off, either."

Marissa Lang can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3386.

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