Photo of a tornado touching down and causing destruction.
Photo courtesy NOAA.

Tornado Alley may roar to life as severe weather season ramps up in the U.S.

March 7, 2024

AccuWeather Global Weather Center – March 6, 2024 – The threat of damaging thunderstorms and tornadoes across the United States will rise in the coming weeks as the Spring severe weather season ramps up. AccuWeather experts say this season will be drastically different compared to last year.

The 2024 severe weather season could get off to a slow start, but AccuWeather Lead Long-Range Forecaster Paul Pastelok says it could prove to be much different than last year. The threat for tornadoes and damaging storms will escalate after reaching the midpoint of the season. 

2024 Tornado Forecast

The expert team of long-range forecasters at AccuWeather are predicting 1,250 to 1,375 tornadoes across the United States in 2024. 

The forecast is above the historical average of 1,225 twisters annually.

A chart from AccuWeather depicting the tornado forecast for 2024 with monthly breakdowns and yearly totals, compared to the historical average and the previous year's data.
AccuWeather’s chart strikes a stark contrast, predicting a turbulent range of 40-95 tornadoes in March, ramping up to 165-200 in April, and peaking at 250-375 in May, with an annual total that could swirl between 1,250 and 1,375, outpacing the historical average and slightly above the whirlwind year of 2023.

The 2024 forecast calls for fewer tornadoes than the 1,423 that were reported across the U.S. in 2023.

Severe Weather Threat Zone

The spring weather patterns will promote more severe weather in the classic Tornado Alley, which spans from Texas through Nebraska. 

Tornadoes could also spin up more frequently in California this year. 

“Any strong system can produce a couple of tornadoes, mainly EF0 intensity, but an EF1 or EF2 cannot be ruled out,” said Pastelok.

An AccuWeather map showing the spring tornado risk from March to May 2024 across the United States, with areas at risk highlighted in varying colors indicating the timing of the highest risk.
This vibrant AccuWeather map paints a stark picture for Spring 2024, with swathes of red through the heartland signifying a heightened tornado risk, while shades of orange and yellow stretch east, putting cities from Houston to New York on alert for nature’s spin cycle.

The majority of tornadoes last year touched down outside of the traditional tornado alley, especially in March and April, when most severe weather impacted areas from the Midwest through the Tennessee Valley. 

A whopping 206 tornadoes were reported across the U.S. in March 2023, well more than double the monthly historical average of 80. 

While expecting a more active season in the traditional Tornado Alley, AccuWeather experts warn families and businesses outside of the traditional tornado alley to not let their guard down this year. 

“The second half of spring is jumping out to us,” said Pastelok. “The severe weather threat can be more frequent in the Midwest, Tennessee and Ohio valleys in later March into May, while the northern Plains and Northeast can have an increase in May.” 

Three Key Factors

Long-range forecasters say the Great Lakes, the Gulf of Mexico, and the return of La Niña will be the major factors that set the 2024 severe weather season apart from 2023. 

“Quick warming of the Great Lakes, combined with below average snowpack in the Midwest, could lead to an early start to severe weather season in this region,” said Pastelok.

Near-record snowfall in parts of the Midwest last winter kept a lid on severe weather over the region during the first part of the 2023 severe weather season. 

El Niño is currently driving weather patterns in North America, which typically leads to below-average tornado and hail reports in the Plains. El Niño is expected to weaken throughout the spring, which could allow for an uptick in activity in Tornado Alley from April through May. Last year’s severe weather season was influenced by La Niña

Conditions in the Gulf of Mexico will also be a major factor behind this year’s severe weather threats. Water temperatures are currently near to slightly above historical averages. 

A map illustrating the severe weather pattern over the Gulf of Mexico and Southern United States for early spring 2024, with ocean temperature deviations from historical averages indicated.
Early Spring 2024 looks set for a dramatic performance, as depicted in this AccuWeather map. The Gulf of Mexico, draped in a foreboding shade of red, signals warmer seas possibly queuing up a chorus line of severe weather, while cooler ocean temps hang back stage, shown in blue.

“If the water is slower to warm in March, this could hold back the number of severe weather reports in March, especially compared to March 2023,” said Pastelok.

The water in the Gulf of Mexico could warm up rapidly during the middle and later part of the spring, which is why AccuWeather meteorologists are highlighting May as a critical month for tornado activity. 

An AccuWeather forecast map showing the late spring 2024 severe weather pattern in the United States, with a focus on increased moisture and strength of weather systems.
As late spring 2024 unfolds, this AccuWeather forecast map spotlights a swathe of red across the Gulf Coast, hinting at a soupy mix of increased moisture above historical averages—prime ingredients for a late-season severe weather bake-off.

With the shift in severe weather threats expected this spring, AccuWeather Chief Meteorologist Jon Porter says families and businesses need to prepare.

“We’ve seen with climate change that severe weather threats, including tornadoes, are happening outside of the time of year and places that people typically associate with tornadoes,” said Porter. “Do not be lulled into any false sense of security. There can be a tornado threat anywhere in the country with the right conditions.”

AccuWeather Senior Storm Warning Meteorologist Phil Warren said this is a good time to review emergency plans. 

“Ensure that you and your family know where your designated safe room is located in your home. If you do not have a specific storm shelter, an interior, windowless room on the lowest level is ideal. Have a storm kit packed that includes bottled water, non-perishable food, a flashlight, small first aid kit, extra batteries, a portable charging device for cell phones, and a small amount of cash,” said Warren. You should also remember to grab any medications you might need, and make sure to wear close-toed shoes and take coats or blankets if you do have to shelter.”

Do not rely on outdoor warning sirens alone. Have multiple ways to get severe weather alerts. The AccuWeather app provides severe weather alerts faster, on average, than any other source.

Spring cleaning at home or in the workplace is a good opportunity to prepare shelters and safe places. 

“Make sure you do not have any boxes in that way that could slow you down while getting to that safe shelter. Clean that area up. Make sure it’s ready,” said Porter. “We can’t control tornadoes, but we can do everything possible to mitigate our own risks. A plan goes a long way.”

Additional AccuWeather Resources:

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