January 2023 tornado activity way ahead of normal

There have been well over 100 tornado reports in January across the U.S.
Published: Jan. 19, 2023 at 11:44 AM CST
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MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - It has been a very active month for severe weather in Alabama so far. Our state has been ravaged by two distinct tornado outbreaks, each producing many tornadoes across Central Alabama.

The most recent one on January 12th produced 13 tornadoes, many of which were “strong.” That means they were rated EF-2 or higher. That is something we don’t see all that often in January.

Tornado reports in January since 2010.
Tornado reports in January since 2010.(WSFA 12 News)

Tornadoes most definitely happen in Alabama and across the Deep South in January, don’t get me wrong (see the map below from Tornado Archive). But to get two outbreaks and a handful of strong tornadoes in January is unusual. It’s also pushing the unprecedented category to get a long-track EF-3 tornado in January.

As a whole, the U.S. has had 124 tornado reports so far in 2023. Of those, Alabama owns 48. The next highest state? Georgia with 21. Active and busy are understatements!

I want to emphasize the fact that those numbers represent tornado reports through January 18th. Reports are different from actual tornadoes. The number of reports is oftentimes higher than the actual number of tornadoes. It’s still fair to use tornado reports to look at how busy a given month or year is.

All U.S. tornadoes between 1875 and 2021.
All U.S. tornadoes between 1875 and 2021.(Tornado Archive)

For perspective, only one other January since 2000 had over 100 tornado reports. So January 2023 is certainly right up near the top when it comes to tornado activity across the U.S. It’s also one the most active Januarys Alabama has ever seen.

Alabama joins Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Tennessee as having seen the most tornadoes in January. The same is true for February, March and April.

These winter and spring months are ripe for severe weather and tornadoes across the Southeast and Gulf Coast. That’s because we are so close to the Gulf of Mexico and ample amounts of moisture. That, combined with systems that move through, provide the wind shear and instability needed for tornadic thunderstorms.

It’s impossible to say what the rest of January will bring. It’s even more impossible to say what February, March and April will bring. However, if history is any indicator, we will certainly see more tornadoes in Alabama. So it’s important to continue staying on top of the forecast, especially whenever the WSFA 12 News First Alert Weather team mentions the risk for severe weather.

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