Rash of Tornadoes Lands January 2023 in the Record Books

Posted: February 4, 2023 3:26 am

Why Were There So Many Tornadoes This Past January?

You are not imagining it being an exceptionally stormy January. While the final numbers still need to be verified, the National Weather Service (NWS) Storm Prediction Center (SPC) is estimating that the U.S. saw between 140 and 165 confirmed tornadoes for the month of January. Where does this put January 2023 on the list of tornadic activity for this month in history?

Looking Back at the Tornadic Activity for January 2023

With the final numbers still outstanding, it is clear that this was an unusually active start to the year when it came to severe weather. Should the numbers end up where most services are predicting, January 2023 will likely boast almost four times the typical number of confirmed tornadoes for the first month of the year. January 2023 will need to officially finish with over 137 confirmed twisters to become the second-most active January on record for tornadoes. The record belongs to January 1999, recording 214 tornadoes.

The year started on a calm note before the severe weather fired up on January 2 across portions of Arkansas, Missouri, and Louisiana. There were 20 total twisters reported on this day, resulting in three injuries. This was just the start of a rash of tornadoes that lasted another two days. By the time the conditions settled down, there were over 60 total tornadoes across multiple states in the South.

The nation then saw six days with no tornado reports. While this is not unusual at all for January, the stretch ended up being the longest time period of the month with no reports of tornadic activity.

The bulk of the activity has been centered across the Southeast. The exceptions included tornadoes in Iowa, Illinois, and California. The tornado in Iowa was distinguished as the first confirmed twister this early in the year in the state.

January 12 saw the largest outbreak of tornadoes of the month. Seven states reported a total of 70 tornadoes, including two EF3 twisters that killed at least 9 people in Alabama and Georgia. Over 30 people were also reportedly injured during this rash of severe weather. Also on this day, an EF2 tornado created significant damage in Selma, Alabama.

Although January 16 is statistically the least likely date of the year to see a tornado across the country as a whole, two of them were reported in Iowa on this day. The next two weeks brought 25 more tornadoes, culminating with a powerful EF3 storm that tore through a handful of suburbs of Houston.

Conditions That Fueled the Tornado Outbreaks

In a typical year, January is the third least likely month to see tornadic activity. This is because the moisture that tends to rise up from the Gulf of Mexico is more suppressed in December, January, and February. This lack of moisture inhibits the development of severe weather outbreaks.

However, warmer than normal water in the Gulf this year has created more favorable conditions for severe weather to develop this winter. As a result, more tornadoes are firing up along with these outbreaks. Meteorologists are pointing out that the water in the Gulf of Mexico has been trending up to 5 degrees warmer than normal in the winter of 2022-2023.

The prevalence of so many tornadoes this past January is a good reminder that this type of activity is possible at any time of the year. In addition, the tornado reports in unlikely areas such as California this year point to the fact that no area is immune to this type of weather occurrence. This is why it is always a good idea to stay alert when severe weather is forecast for your area.

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