Tornado Season - How To Plan for Vacation Weather the Right Way
Updated: Mar 7, 2022
Here at YourCast, we’re always happy to help find the vacation weather you want–the ideal date and location to maximize chances that Mother Nature is on your side. Even more so than being your personal weather planners, our goal is helping you be more aware of the weather and so you can enjoy life safely.
Getting excited about a trip, striving to get the best conditions possible, looking for a future weather forecast by date is one thing, but more important than that is knowing what kind of high impact weather (if any) is possible in your area of choice during a given time of year. In the United States, winter travel can be slowed by blizzards, summer fun trounced by hurricanes and in the spring, plans can be punished by tornadoes.
Some popular spring destination cities have had their fair share of tornadoes in just the last 30 years. The graph below shows the number of tornadoes, in the counties of those respective cities from 1991 - 2020. Can you see the trend? In March, southern cities are far more vulnerable. This is just a snapshot of one month and five counties though, the numbers get higher in the north and lower in the south the deeper you go into spring. We can calculate all of those numbers, for any county in the U.S. by month, week or even single date.
While blizzards and hurricanes come together days in advance, often giving us time to prepare or even get out of dodge, tornadoes evolve on much different size and time scales. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Storm Prediction Center (SPC), offers outlooks of areas favorable for tornadoes and other types of severe weather.
But again, in comparison to blizzards and hurricanes, tornadoes aren’t guaranteed to hit a whole, large, sometimes multi-state area. On top of that, they aren’t guaranteed to even form and sometimes don’t until just minutes before they hit! So how do you play this in terms of booking travel and events?
The daily chance at any one location certainly is not high enough to ever prevent you from booking travel or events months or years in advance. No, in the case of tornadoes, it’s just about awareness.
Broadly, understand the favored regions for tornadoes at a given time of year. Know that it does shift. Many think the Midwest is the region of the country most prone to tornadoes, and is true at certain times of the year. The map above shows the daily chance for a tornado within 25 miles of a point around the week of May 20. Take Oklahoma for instance… sure, 1.4% is really low, but think about it this way, during that specific week, there is a 1300% greater chance of deadly weather there than in New York!
There are plenty of meteorologists that would say the Southeast is becoming a more prominent hotspot for tornadoes. Here is another stat to think about. Look at the map below. If we just change the date to about two months earlier around late February, that same part of Oklahoma is 300% percent less likely to have a tornado than parts of Mississippi or Alabama!
OK… so what next? Well, no action other than… you guessed it, more awareness. Too often, people become victims of tornadoes just because they are not aware of the danger. Have a plan. There are two main steps to this plan. First, you want to have situational awareness. Second, you want to have informational awareness.
Know a little more about where you are going. It will take you less than five minutes to ask yourself and answer these questions:
Where will I be staying?
What type of structure is that?
Where is the lowest, most-interior part of that structure?
Will I be outside during the threat?
Where is the nearest sturdy structure?
How will I get updates?
How will I keep a device charged that can give me updates?
I know that all sounds a little over cautious and silly but my own published research has found that we as humans DO NOT make rational decisions when in the face of immediate danger. So it always pays to have a plan figured out ahead of time so that when faced with a tough situation, you already know how to react.
Check the forecast a few days ahead of time. More than just the temperatures and chances for rain… be sure to know if there is a risk for severe weather, and particularly tornadoes. How?
You have several options that go just one step farther than getting a basic forecast. Know the timetable of severe weather and tornado threats. There are three key “alerts” to look for.
The Outlook - conditions may allow tornadoes to form in this area next 1-8 days
The Watch - tornadoes are likely to form in this area in the next few hours
The Warning - a tornado is happening in this area right now
To get the outlook, the most direct routes are to follow the SPC on Twitter and check their feed or familiarize yourself with the SPC website. Right on their homepage there is a big map, and the second tab at the top of that map is the “conv. outlook” section. This is what you want. It gives the chances for severe weather up to 8 days in advance–but is most useful for the next three days. Click that tab and you will see a day one, day two, day three and day 4-8 outlook. Very simply put, within that map, if the area you will be in is shaded in any color representing level 1 up to 5 (arrows pointing to the levels box in picture below), there could be a risk of tornadoes on that day. This is your signal to pay extra attention.
To get the watch, just have a way to receive updates. The most foolproof option is to buy a NOAA Weather Radio for about $30. You could also follow the local National Weather Service (NWS) in that area on Twitter, OR download the weather app from a local news station in that area. To find the correct NWS office, just Google the name of your travel or event destination town and “National Weather Service” and on the top left of the resulting local forecast page it will tell you the name of the office. To find an appropriate television station, Google the name of the town, or better yet the nearest big city, and “local tv weather” and then search for a tv station’s call letters and weather in the App Store or Google Play. It may turn out that there is not a local weather app for that area, especially if it is sparsely populated, in which case the NOAA Weather Radio and Twitter are your best bets. If a watch is issued, that is a signal to think about that plan you made ahead of time, and be ready to act.
To get the warning, it is quite simple. Because a tornado is an immediately life-threatening situation, make sure in your phone → settings → notifications → you have “emergency” and “public safety alerts” toggled on. NOAA and the NWS then sound off an alarm on your phone (even when in silent as long as you leave “always play sound” on) if a warning is issued. When a warning is issued, that is your signal to act on that plan you made ahead of time, to protect your life.
You might be looking for a future road trip weather planner and come across some great resources that will help you with the day to day forecast just before you leave. However, many of those are too simplistic, only displaying temperatures, winds, and the chance for rain. A lot of them will not specifically mention the threat of tornadoes, maybe just show a little thunderstorm icon.
So use those steps outlined above. Or contact YourCast years, months, or just weeks before your travel or event and we can provide the insights. Either way will take you less than five minutes and can ensure you are aware of and safe from tornadoes no matter when and where the journey takes you!