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After 'fast start' to severe weather season, what should Ohioans expect for 2024?

A large pile of rubble sits next to a two-lane road. The sky is covered with grey clouds.
Adriana Martinez-Smiley
A large pile of rubble sits along Rigde Road in Clark County after an EF-2 tornado struck about 5 a.m. Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2024.

Ohio has had an unusually high number of tornadoes over the past three months.

This includes a tornado in Clark County that tore through over 90 homes. In Logan County, a recent tornado took lives with it.

Over the past 30 years, Ohio has averaged around 21 tornadoes a year. This year, there have already been 18 confirmed.

Fast start to severe weather season

Brandon Pelonquin, a warning coordination meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Wilmington, said the tornado count most likely won’t stop there.

“The main idea here is we've already got off to a fast start with the severe weather season,” Pelonquin said. “Looking at some of the patterns and projections, that active weather pattern that could support severe weather looks to continue as we go into April.”

The weather pattern Pelonquin is referring to is a combination of different weather systems in the atmosphere interacting with each other.

Jana Houser, Ohio State University professor and atmospheric scientist, said low pressure systems and irregular temperatures create favorable conditions for tornadoes to form.

“But what really differentiates rotating storms and tornado potential is not just having these unstable conditions present, which is a requirement, but you also need to have a situation where your winds change in both speed and direction as you're going up through the atmosphere,” said Houser.

More tornado potential

Houser said in the winter, Ohio doesn't usually have warm enough conditions that are needed to create atmospheric instability, which is responsible for storm weather.

That could be why, historically, tornadoes in Ohio occur most frequently during May, June, and July.

But this February was the second warmest on record in Ohio. Tornadoes need both cold air and warm moist air in order to form, according to Houser. 

She said it’s hard to connect this trend to climate change.

But she also said “there might be a a shift in seasonality, where we start seeing some of those more robust events happen earlier in the calendar year.”

Preparing for more extreme weather

Houser said tornado likelihood may also be shifting geographically.

A 2018 study suggests that “tornado alley” in the U.S. is shifting eastward. States like Kansas and Oklahoma are seeing less tornadoes while states in the Southeast and Upper Midwest (including Ohio) are seeing more. That uptick is also being observed in the winter months.

In general, Pelonquin said Ohioans should be prepared for more high impact weather events moving forward.

That includes not only tornadoes, but also flash floods, extreme heat or cold snaps.

He said their office is planning some studies for this year’s earlier tornadoes to measure their office’s alert and response to the events.

“Our job is changing to a degree. We need to stay on top of the latest and greatest technology, and we need to make sure that we're in the best position to communicate these hazards to our partners and the public,” Pelonquin said. "So they are aware and know when there is the risk for severe weather and what to do when watches and warnings are issued."

Adriana Martinez-Smiley (she/they) is the Environment and Indigenous Affairs Reporter for WYSO. They grew up in Hamilton, Ohio and graduated from Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism in June 2023. Before joining WYSO, her work has been featured in NHPR, WBEZ and WTTW.

Email: amartinez-smiley@wyso.org
Cell phone: 937-342-2905