OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Emergency officials in Oklahoma, Texas and
Kansas are bracing for two types of disasters as spring gets into full
swing: The start of what’s historically the most active time of year for
tornadoes plus wildfire threats brought on by severe drought.
April, May and June are the most active months in the U.S. for
tornadoes. At the same time, the three states on the southern end of
Tornado Alley are experiencing extreme and exceptional drought that
could fuel wildfires.
Tornado Alley extends from northern Texas and covers much of
Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska and South Dakota, plus slivers of New Mexico
and Colorado, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Storm Prediction Center.
The past three years, the U.S. has seen an average of more than 600 tornadoes during April, May and June, according to the center
. That is more than half the average of 1,186 tornadoes per year during
that time span, although the numbers from the last three months of 2017
are still considered preliminary.
Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas are accustomed to preparing for multiple
emergency situations happening at once and train with various agencies
to account for different possibilities.
“We’re typically preparing for worst-case scenarios year-round
anyway,” state Department of Emergency Management spokeswoman Keli Cain
said, noting that the SPC reports Oklahoma City has been struck by more tornadoes
than any other U.S. city, with more than 100 known twisters. “We do
have some experience at that. We plan for all hazards anyway.”
Katie Horner, spokeswoman for the Kansas adjutant general’s division
of emergency management, said last year the state dealt with a blizzard,
an ice storm, fire, flooding and a tornado warning all in the same
week. “We train not only for one or two events in a day, but three or
four events in a day,” she added.
Chip Orton, the emergency management director for Amarillo, a city of
about 200,000 in the Texas Panhandle, says, “My job is to be worried.”
“That’s why we come to work every day. Is it likely? Probably not. Could it happen? Sure,” he said.
While tornadoes are the result of thunderstorms, which are created
from conditions that include moisture, the current dry conditions in the
area do not preclude twisters, said Storm Prediction Center
meteorologist Patrick Marsh. He noted that two tornadoes were reported
in the Texas Panhandle on March 18, even as the area was rated in
Some private forecasting services are predicting an increase in
tornadoes during the coming months, based largely on the fact that there
was the climate phenomenon La Nina during the past winter. They’re
expecting weather patterns in the coming months to be wetter and warmer
than usual, particularly in the southeastern U.S. and along the Gulf
“(Those conditions) would be a petri dish for thunderstorms. You need
to add an additional ingredient for tornados. ... You need wind shear.
Wind shear is best described as a change in wind speed and direction,”
Marsh said, and is created when cold air and warm air collide at the
The national Storm Prediction Center, however, does not forecast severe weather more than about a week in advance.