Nebraskans feeling snubbed by tornado list

2012-03-16T13:30:00Z 2012-03-16T17:19:14Z Nebraskans feeling snubbed by tornado listBy PETER SALTER Lincoln Journal Star Sioux City Journal
March 16, 2012 1:30 pm  • 

LINCOLN, Neb. -- Here in Tornado Alley, we watch our Doppler and track our twisters with a mix of fear, respect -- and pride.

But in a new study by the Weather Channel's tornado expert, Nebraska didn't crack the list of the Top 10 Tornado States.

It ranked behind its neighbors, Iowa and Kansas. Behind Florida and Louisiana. Behind South Carolina, even, and Maryland.

Maryland, No. 3?

Nebraska, No. 11?

The expert, Greg Forbes, used National Weather Service data from 1950 to 2010, calculating the number of tornadoes per 10,000 square miles -- a different approach than the traditional tornadoes-per-state-per-year rankings.

Florida ranked first, with 12.3 tornadoes per 10,000 square miles. Louisiana was last, with 8.5.

The list contained a couple of Tornado Alley states, No. 7 Oklahoma and No. 2 Kansas; a pair of Midwestern states, No. 6 Iowa and No. 4 Illinois; and two hard-hit Southern states, No. 9 Alabama and No. 5 Mississippi.

Most of the rankings didn't shock Adam Houston, an assistant professor of earth and atmospheric sciences at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

"The only thing that kind of surprises me is that a state like Maryland has such a high number."

The others were elementary: Hurricanes striking Florida and the Carolinas often produce tornadoes, although they're often weak tornadoes. The Southern Plains and the Southeast are routinely hit hard.

Houston didn't immediately see deeper meaning in the list.

"I'm a scientist. I want to use these studies to glean information that might be buried within it. The obvious question is: What do these statistics tell us that might be different? And I have no idea."

Scientists who study tornadoes -- how they form, where they form -- think about geography, but they don't think too much about state lines and political boundaries, Houston said. Tornadoes don't care about addresses.

But if you want to maintain some pride, look at other studies. Filter out weak tornadoes, and some of the Weather Channel's top tornado states fall away.

A National Weather Service map of EF3 to EF5 tornadoes from 1991 to 2010 shows Maryland had 0.3 instances, Florida had 0.4 and South Carolina had 0.8. Nebraska had 1.2 such twisters.

And the Weather Channel's Forbes, through a spokeswoman, suggested Nebraska's tornadoes -- though fewer -- are bigger and stronger.

"If you used other parameters like tornado intensity, tornado path length, and tornado path width, Nebraska would climb even higher and (Florida) would drop out of the top 10."


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