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NOAA image of tornado in Union City, Okla., taken May 24, 1973.October 15, 2001 — A modern-day weather record for the most tornadoes during the first half of any October was set last week. From Oct. 9-13, 59 tornadoes swept through nine U.S. central and southeastern states, bringing the total for the month thus far to 83 reported tornadoes, according to NOAA's National Weather Service. (Click NOAA image for larger view of tornado in Union City, Okla., taken May 24, 1973.)

"Despite the record number of tornadoes, there were no fatalities and only twelve minor injuries during this most recent outbreak," said Dan McCarthy, NOAA's Storm Prediction Center's warning coordination meteorologist. He credits the no loss of lives to NOAA and its severe weather preparedness partners.

Click images for larger view. Credit "NOAA."
NOAA chart of October tornadoes from 1990 through 2000. NOAA chart of November tornadoes from 1990 to 2000.

NOAA's severe weather concept "Ready, Set, Go."

Last week's storms impacted Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Texas. NOAA's Storm Prediction Center coordinated with National Weather Service Forecast Offices to issue 25 tornado and seven severe thunderstorm watches covering these states.

"Just in those five days, there were more than double the average number of October tornadoes," said McCarthy. "The average number of tornadoes in October since the National Weather Service began tracking tornadoes in 1950 is 29 events. The previous record for the first half of any October was set in 1998 when 47 confirmed tornadoes hit various parts of the nation."

McCarthy said October and November are known as the nation's second tornado season, especially in the central and southeastern states. "October is not usually this active but, since we are only half way through this month, we are watching for any further changes in atmospheric systems that could continue this active trend," said McCarthy. "We want to alert the public that tornadoes can occur year round and to maintain a careful eye on the weather."

He noted the greatest number of tornadoes for the entire month of October occurred in 1997 with 100 reported tornado events. The second highest number of tornadoes for October was 86 set in 1998. The Storm Prediction Center records also indicate the October average from 1990 through 2000 was 57 tornadoes.

November has averaged 30 tornadoes for the past 51 years. The highest number of events in November occurred in 1992 when 146 confirmed tornadoes took place. The second highest number of recorded tornadoes was 121 set in 1988. The SPC record confirms November averages for the last decade is 47 tornadoes.

Because of improved technology, such as the Doppler radar, and partnerships with storm spotters, McCarthy said, "We are able to detect, warn and then confirm the existence of these super cells more readily."

McCarthy said the first two weeks of the month have been a perfect example for the public to recognize the National Weather Service's ‘Ready - Set - Go' concept of operations.

"We want to have the public understand our warning information process just like they recognize a traffic signal," said McCarthy.

The ‘Ready' phase occurs as the Storm Prediction Center monitors storms moving across the country. The SPC outlines the locations where the potential risk exists for severe storms.

"When the environment becomes favorable for severe weather, we move into the ‘Set' phase. That's when the Storm Prediction Center and National Weather Service Forecast Offices coordinate information and issue severe weather watches. The ‘Go' occurs when the forecast offices transmit a severe thunderstorm or tornado warning. This entire process permits the emergency management community and media to partner with us to alert the public what to do and how to protect themselves with the greatest amount of lead time possible," said McCarthy.

"When we say, go to a safe location and take cover, that means severe weather is imminent. Understanding this process and taking appropriate action could likely save your life. We work with our partners to always educate the public about this process because we can't go around and knock on everyone's front door to tell them there is a storm in their back yard," warned McCarthy.

The NWS broadcasts these watches and warnings to every community in the nation through the Emergency Alert System using the NOAA Weather Radio system and radio and television stations. NOAA Weather Radio is a system of more than 600 radio transmitters broadcasting to nearly 90 percent of Americans. The NOAA Weather Radio receivers are available at electronics stores with some models offering the Specific Area Message Encoding or SAME alert function that automatically sounds an alarm when there is a severe weather message. The radios can be programmed to broadcast weather alerts for specific counties.

Relevant Web Sites
NOAA's Storm Prediction Center Tornado Statistics

Frequently Asked Questions about Tornadoes from NOAA's Storm Prediction Center

NOAA Weather Radio

NOAA's Tornadoes Page

NOAA's Severe Weather Photos

Media Contacts:
Keli Tarp, NOAA's Storm Prediction Center, (405) 366-0451 or Curtis Carey, NOAA's National Weather Service, (301) 713-0622