What is the probability that a tornado could hit Utah? ABC4’s chief meteorologist explains

(ABC4) – News of a cluster of tornadoes that left dozens of dead and thousands stranded without heat in Kentucky could raise concerns about the possibility of such an event on the ground.

The good news is that, historically, Utah residents have been in one of the safest places in the country when it comes to tornadoes.

Twisters aren’t a big problem here, but they do happen from time to time. According to data and research gathered by ABC4 chief meteorologist Alana Brophy, the state typically sees around two tornadoes a year.

Fortunately, they are nowhere near as destructive as the ones seen over the weekend in the middle of the country.

“The devastation in the Midwest is heartbreaking and the loss of life is heartbreaking,” says Brophy. “The tornado outbreak that spanned several states this past weekend is rare, and a similar event is unlikely here in Utah. While tornadoes aren’t one of our biggest weather threats in the state of Beehive, they do affect Utah every year. “

That is not to say that there is no history of tornadoes affecting the state. The EF2 twister (tornadoes are scaled from zero to five on the extended Fujita scale) that swept through downtown Salt Lake City on August 11, 1999 caused $ 170 million property damage while breaking 80 injured and killed a man.

Aside from this single fatality, Utah has no record of a tornado-related fatality, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Center for Environmental Information database, which dates back to 1950. It’s just as unusual for a tornado to land in the state in the month of December. Only one of the 136 recorded tornadoes in Utah since 1950 occurred in the middle of winter, an F1 twister in Utah County on December 2, 1970 that did no harm or damage to property or crops.

Injuries are also rare. Including the 80 injured in the ’99 event, only 96 Utahner were reported as injured in a tornado. And apart from the $ 170 million in damages that August day, only $ 7.1 million has been swept away by tornado devastation in the past 61 years, according to NOAA.

That’s a drop in the ocean when compared to the estimated $ 17 billion in tornado-related losses the entire United States suffers on average each year.

Still, tornadoes can happen anywhere the conditions are right, including Utah, Brophy says. However, geography plays an important role in why some parts of the United States experience more tornadoes than others.

“The necessary ingredients are found in major thunderstorms. It’s usually warm, humid conditions near the surface, cool air at altitude, and winds that move quickly and flow in opposite directions to create rotation, ”says Brophy. “Some regions of our country are more favored by these conditions than others, like the Midwest. ‘Tornado Alley’ is vulnerable to these conditions because you bring colliding air masses with warm, humid air from the Gulf of Mexico to cooler, fast-flowing air from Canada or the Rocky Mountains. “

In 2021, Utah’s tornadoes were on the smaller end of the Fujita scale. Only one Twister, which touched down twice briefly in North Salt Lake and Woods Cross in September, reached F1 on the meter. Other wind events that could have resembled a tornado, such as in the districts of Juab and Weber, were later classified as Landspout and “EFU” on the Fujita scale due to an “unknown” number of wind damage.

Although there are sometimes large storms that can cause damage, the storm was on the 11th because the wind did not change.

The scenes of destruction in Kentucky have been heartbreaking as many have either been left homeless or mourned the loss of a loved one as the holidays draw near. Fortunately for residents here in Utah, a winter tornado with this type of collateral damage is virtually unknown.

“Tornadoes usually peak in the spring and summer,” Brophy says of the United States as a whole. “But unfortunately we are talking about a unique event and massive loss of life here in December.”

About Mike Crayton

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