A one-on-one with the Storm Prediction Center on severe weather

Bill Bunting with the SPC in Norman, Okla., strongly urges paying close attention during AL tornado season

One-on-one with Storm Prediction Center

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - It has been a very active year in terms of severe weather and tornadoes in Alabama. That is especially true for March. But just because we’ve been more on the quiet side of late doesn’t mean we are done with dangerous weather.

“Certainly a lot of active weather in Alabama so far this year. I hope the trend is for improvement, but it’s really hard to predict precisely how the rest of the season will play out. Again, it just comes down to being prepared, being alert and monitor the forecast,” says Bill Bunting, Chief of Forecast Operations at the NOAA National Weather Service Storm Prediction Center.

As of April 2nd there have been 215 tornado reports in the United States. Alabama claims a whopping 66 of those, with no other state even close. Texas is in second place with 44.

Alabama has also been hit by five of the seven tornadoes rated EF-3 or higher to hit the U.S. in 2021. Each of them had maximum wind speeds of at least 140 mph! Alabama has also had six of the eleven tornado fatalities in the U.S. this year.

But...

“April is typically the worst month for tornadoes; the numbers of them peak in the month of April,” Bunting says while continuing to reiterate the importance of preparation and heeding warnings.

On average we see eight tornadoes in April. The next highest month is March with five. Those are just averages, though. You can have months that end up being significantly less active or significantly more active than normal.

“Even if it’s a quiet April and a quiet May, all it takes is one day to really make a difference. From our standpoint, just be vigilant when thunderstorms are in the forecast. It’s important for folks to monitor those forecasts,” Bunting tells Meteorologist Tyler Sebree.

And that “one day to really make a difference” can come on a day when the severe weather threat isn’t even that high.

“We have a 5-tier risk system -- Marginal, Slight, Enhanced, Moderate, High. And those words basically differ from each other based on the expected coverage of severe storms. Not intensity, but coverage. A Marginal Risk [level 1-of-5 risk] means there is a risk of severe storms in your area. Pay attention. Treat it in many respects like you would a High Risk. It’s important to treat all risks as potentially significant.”

So when you see us post severe weather forecast maps with the yellows, oranges, reds, and pinks you need to know that the yellow day has the potential to be just as bad as the pink day -- just not as widespread.

“Focus less on the actual color and the word that we use, but more on the fact that there is a threat and you need to take action as soon as you can,” Bunting says of the different threat categories.

Whenever there is a risk of severe weather -- even a low-end level one risk -- for your neighborhood, Bunting says it’s vital to have ways to receive important information and warnings.

“No matter what your activities that you’re planning to do that day are, monitoring the weather probably is going to be one of them.”

We probably won’t see an 8-day span like we did in March with those two tornado outbreaks centered in Alabama, but a severe weather event doesn’t need to be on that level to be damaging, destructive and potentially deadly.

Once we get to the end of May you can worry a bit less -- but not completely forget about -- severe weather and tornadoes as the ingredients for more impactful severe weather drop off substantially during the summertime.

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