The Ottumwa Courier

Southeast Iowa

October 24, 2012

Drought blocked tornadoes in 2012

OSKALOOSA — This year got off to a fast start for severe weather, but the summer's heat and drought means 2012 is likely to go down as a comparatively mild year for tornadoes.

The Storm Prediction Center has a preliminary count of 1,006 tornadoes in the U.S. through October 15. That's not the number of actual tornadoes, but rather a count of the reports to date.

In most cases, the actual count lags behind the estimated count by several months. But that's not the case in Iowa this year.

"This year is sort of easy to keep track because there have been so few," said State Climatologist Harry Hillaker.

According to Hillaker there have been 16 tornadoes in Iowa in 2012, compared to 51 in 2011. That includes one that touched down briefly near the Oskaloosa airport in April. There have been none in the state since May 24, which Hillaker called "a really exceptional streak."

While tornadoes are possible at any time of year, it appears 2012 will go down with the fewest in Iowa since 1963. And Hillaker said that year likely had additional tornadoes that today's equipment would spot but weren't recorded then.

The basic reason for the drop in 2012 is simple: Drought. If you don't have rain, you don't have storms. If you don't have storms, you don't have tornadoes.

At least, that's the way it usually works. Hillaker pointed to 1988 as the exception. It was a very dry year with few stormy days. But on one day everything came together and the state saw more than 20 tornadoes.

Tornado deaths this year are down as well, with 68 people killed nationally. That figure is higher than either 2009 or 2010, but well below the record-setting 553 people killed by tornadoes in 2011.

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