2011 Tornado Season Rare, but Not Unheard Of

Spring tornados that caused at least $15.5 billion in insured losses in the United States were a once in decade occurrence and it’s too early to determine if they are part larger trend in Midwest storms, says Steve Bowen, meteorologist with Impact Forecasting, a subsidiary of Aon Benfield.

“In terms of larger outbreaks, it’s not something that we haven’t seen before,” Bowen said. “We see this type of outbreaks once a decade. It’s too early to say if this is part of a long term increase.”

Bowen discussed the tornado outbreak following the release last week of a report entitled United States April & May 2011 Severe Weather Outbreaks.

According to the report, at least 540 tornado fatalities have occurred in the U.S. this year as of mid-June; 964 percent higher than the typical yearly average of 56. The report added that insured losses were 303 percent above the annual average, and that insurers received more than 160,000 claims with payouts in excess of $1.7 billion.

Bowen added that what made this year’s tornado season so devastating was the fact that storm cut a path through densely populated areas.

“There is a myth out there that tornados will not hit a populated or urban area. What we have seen this year U.S. is proof of that. In many ways it is the luck of the draw.”

The report points out the 2011 tornado season became the deadliest outbreaks since February, 2008, when at least 57 people were killed in the U.S. Tennessee Valley and the Southeast. So far this year 162 tornadoes have been confirmed by the National Weather Service, not including “hundreds of additional reports of damaging straight-line winds and large hail,” the report said.

The major concern of meteorologists is the current hurricane season, which could wreak havoc on communities that have already been devastated by severe thunderstorms and tornados, Bowen added.

“The big concern right now is that we are transitioning into hurricane season,” Bowen said. “That can exacerbate a situation that is already fairly dire.”

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