Oklahoma’s tornado season is off to a slow start, and you can thank the drought, weather experts said.
Just seven confirmed tornadoes have been recorded in Oklahoma this year — the fewest the state has seen by mid-June since records began in 1950. One person has died in a tornado since January 1, according to National Weather Service records.
In a typical year, the state might have 40 to 45 confirmed tornadoes by mid-June, said Oklahoma state climatologist Gary McManus. Before this year, the fewest twisters the state logged by mid-June was in 1988, when 10 confirmed tornadoes touched down in the state by June 15.
Part of the explanation for the good news on the tornado front comes from the crippling drought that’s gripping much of the state, McManus said. Nearly 82 percent of the state is experiencing some level of drought, according to a U.S. Drought Monitor report released Thursday. About 53 percent of the state is experiencing extreme or exceptional drought, the report’s two most severe categories.
The first four months of 2014 were among the driest on record, McManus said. Those dry conditions led to fewer tornadoes, because there were fewer thunderstorms to produce them, he said.
Spring rains made their way back into the state beginning May 21, but conditions still weren’t right, he said.
“It takes very precise conditions to produce tornadoes,” he said.
Although tornadoes can happen in Oklahoma at any time of year, the state sees most of its twisters in March, April and May. By late June and July, the chance of tornadoes drops considerably, so a relatively calm spring likely means a low tornado count for the entire year, McManus said.
The strongest of Oklahoma’s seven tornadoes this year was an EF2 storm on April 27 that cut an 11-mile path through Ottawa County and Cherokee County, Kan.
That tornado killed John Brown, 68, of Baxter Springs, Kan. He and his wife were parked in a parking lot in Quapaw when a concrete wall collapsed onto their vehicle, the Ottawa County sheriff’s office reported.
The tornado also destroyed Quapaw’s fire station and injured 12 people, the National Weather Service reported.
Quapaw City Clerk Terri Daniels said the city’s fire trucks are stationed at several locations around the town, including the Quapaw Tribe’s fire department, while the city rebuilds the fire station.
The town’s board of trustees recently approved a contract to rebuild the station, she said.
Although the recovery process has been slow, Daniels said the town has made progress.
Volunteers are still in the community helping with relief efforts, and some residents have been able to use money from a relief fund for rebuilding.
“It’s slow, but it’s starting to pick up,” Daniels said. “A lot of people didn’t have insurance, and they’ve just been kind of waiting.”