Tornado season gets under way

Published 9:10 am Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Forecasters say a wetter-than-usual winter and a jet stream ripping over the part of the country known as “Tornado Alley” could lead to an active spring — perhaps starting with the strong twister that nicked a small western Oklahoma town Monday night.

“It’s time to get ready,” Michelann Ooten of the Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management said Tuesday as she surveyed damage from a storm that destroyed five homes and tore the roofs off several others in Hammon.

The nation typically will see 70-100 tornadoes by early March, but only 42 had been reported until Monday night’s Oklahoma tornado. There was only one tornado nationwide during February.

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“No one would argue that we’re going to see a pretty good increase in the number of severe storms,” said Greg Carbin, the warning coordination meteorologist with the national Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla. “But each year’s a little different. The number, magnitude, number of days are all very tentative at this point.”

In the short term, storms will be generated and fueled by the usual tornado trigger — Gulf moisture colliding with storm systems driven by the jet stream.

In a few months, parts of the Plains that had above-normal precipitation during the winter could see storms fueled by the moisture stored within plants and the ground. “Transpiration is usually a component later in the springtime. We won’t have that for a little while longer,” Carbin said.