Apr 11, 2023 - News

What recent tornado trends mean for Ohio

Illustration of an hourglass with a tornado and lightning in the top portion

Illustration: Natalie Peeples/Axios

When you think of tornadoes, Northeast Ohio doesn't typically come to mind — at least not yet.

Driving the news: A staggering 389 tornadoes were reported in the U.S. from January to March 2023, according to the National Weather Service, second only to the 398 in 2017 for the most ever recorded during that period since tracking began in 1950.

Why it matters: The number of tornadoes in Ohio has nearly doubled in 2023, from six during the first three months of 2022 to 11 so far this year.

  • Aaron Wilson, an atmospheric scientist at The Ohio State University, tells Axios that because Cleveland experiences extreme windstorms, the city is also "at risk" for a destructive tornado, especially given recent trends.

Zoom out: Research has shown a shift eastward in tornado frequency from the part of the country traditionally known as "tornado alley," which includes parts of Texas, Kansas and Oklahoma.

  • Several damaging EF3 tornadoes — wind speeds ranging from 136 to 165 mph — touched down this month in Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Tennessee, Kentucky and Delaware.

What they're saying: Jana Houser, associate professor of meteorology at OSU, tells Axios the biggest surprises have been how far north and east tornadoes are occurring, and how early in the year.

  • "Usually, we'll see this kind of tornado frequency in our area in June and July, or even closer to fall," she says.

Zoom in: So far this year, tornadoes have occurred in western and southwestern parts of Ohio.

Threat level: Houser says Cleveland "isn't too far north" for a tornado.

  • "While the risk may not be great, there's definitely still a risk," she says, "especially with the atmospheric instability we've seen this year."

Flashback: Thirteen tornadoes have touched down in or around Cuyahoga County since 1960, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

  • The last major tornado was an EF3 just south of Solon in May 1983. It killed one person and injured 25 while causing $25 million in property damage.
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