Nature April 13, 2021
This Spring Is Forecast To Be The Most Active Tornado Season Indiana Has Seen In Years
If you’ve been paying any attention to local news and/or weather-centric websites and blogs, you might have heard some whispers that this spring is likely to be an above-average one when it comes to severe weather and tornadoes in Indiana. But why, though, do the experts suspect this, and just how accurate are these reports?
We’re aware that these uncertain times are limiting many aspects of life. While we continue to feature destinations that make our state wonderful, please take proper precautions or add them to your bucket list to see at a later date. If you know of a local business that could use some extra support during these times, please nominate them here:
First, it's important to note that currently, there is no one person, mathematical model, or theory that can, with 100% accuracy, predict the occurrence of severe weather more than, at most, a few days out; any claims that this spring severe weather season is
definitely going to be worse than normal should be taken with a healthy-sized grain of salt.
However, there is some evidence supporting the theory that, during La Niña years, severe weather ramps up and occurs more ferociously; for example, 2011 was a La Niña year, and it saw the most prolific and deadly tornado outbreak in history: the infamous 2011 Super-Outbreak occurred in April of that year, during which 362 confirmed tornadoes claimed 348 lives in their wakes across several states.
Of course, one particularly intense year occurring at the same time as a La Niña pattern doesn't mean much. However, a 2015 study showed a notable connection between La Niña patterns and tornadoes in the Plains, Midwest, and South.
The above chart is adapted from data from that study, courtesy of NOAA. On the left-hand side are tornadoes (at top) and severe hail storms (at bottom) during El Niño influence (left side) and La Niña influence (right side), with shades of purple indicating "more frequent" tornadoes or hail.
As you can see, during La Niña years, it wasn't just the tornado alley in the central plains that saw a more frequent occurrence of tornadoes and severe weather. The Midwest and south also saw an increase in tornadoes, and that includes parts of Indiana.
So, considering we're in a La Niña pattern currently, what does this mean for the Hoosier state and severe weather? Well, in a nutshell, we
could certainly see more tornadoes than usual, and studies suggest this is true based on several decades of data, but this isn't set in stone. There is so much that can change in coming weeks that saying for sure whether the "La Niña curse" of higher-than-average severe weather events is going to come to fruition or not is impossible.
Instead, it's wise to always have a plan if severe weather strikes: lack of preparedness and planning leads to deaths (as well as ignoring warnings, by the way), so to make sure ahead of time that you have all of your ducks in a row during severe weather is helpful in the long run - and it could save your life.
Luckily for us Midwesterners, we don't get nearly as many tornadoes as, say, Oklahoma does. Indiana typically sees about 20 tornadoes on average each year, while Oklahoma (and much of the rest of traditional tornado alley) easily sees 50 to over 100 tornadoes in the same time period.
However, during La Nina years, we typically see more than average - 2011, for example, saw a whopping 72 confirmed tornadoes in Indiana.
La Niña years 2016 and 2017 saw 40 and 30 tornadoes in Indiana, respectively, and 1974, also a La Niña year, saw a record-breaking number of tornadoes in Indiana as well, with 21 of them ripping through the state during a single outbreak in April of that year. That outbreak was, until 2011, the worst in history, with 148 confirmed tornadoes tearing across the Plains, the South, and the Midwest. Now, we know that there very well could be a connection between La Niña influence and years like 1974 and 2011.
So, should you be concerned? Maybe a bit, but don't let it eat away at you.
Perhaps "concerned" is too strong a word; perhaps "prepared" is better. Should you be
prepared for a potentially more active than average tornado season? Absolutely. The more prepared you are, the less concerned you need to be about what you will do. Don't let severe weather days sneak up on you.
Monitor weather reports daily; the Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Oklahoma, issues severe weather outlooks several times a day for the upcoming days, which are available to the public at
Learn the risk levels they use and what they mean, and keep a weather radio on at all times during days when severe weather is likely. Have a plan: do you have your own underground shelter or basement, or does a neighbor? Do you instead have a centrally located closet or bathroom you plan to hunker down in in the event of a tornado if you have no underground shelter available? Keep bottled water and batteries in whatever shelter you have at home; they are invaluable in the event of a disaster.
Thankfully, truly disastrous tornadoes are rare, even in Oklahoma and the central plains.
Indiana has had about 1,300 confirmed tornadoes since 1950; only a handful of them were violent or particularly dangerous. Chances are, even if a tornado
is headed your way, it is very unlikely to be on the "violent" end of the spectrum. You're much more likely to experience an inconvenient antenna-bender that takes your mailbox and uproots trees than a mile-wide monster that scrubs pavement from the ground. Either way, preparation is still key to surviving and thriving during a potentially volatile storm season.
Interested in reading more about the historic 1974 tornado outbreak and how it affected Indiana?
Check out this article.
Have you ever noticed more tornadoes during La Nina years? What’s the craziest weather you’ve ever seen in the Hoosier State? Tell us your stories in the comments!