ATLANTA, Georgia- The Weather Channel says 2017 is off to the deadliest start for tornadoes in nine years following Tuesday’s severe weather outbreak in the Midwest that killed at least three people.
Reports from the media and NOAA’s Storm Prediction Center (SPC) indicate there were a preliminary three tornado-related deaths on February’s final day, one each in Ottawa, Illinois, Crossville, Illinois, and Perryville, Missouri. That has increased the 2017 tornado death toll in the United States to 23 if the three most recent fatalities are all confirmed to be the result of twisters.
This year’s other tornado-related deaths occurred in the Jan. 21-22 tornado outbreak across the South, which killed four near Hattiesburg, Mississippi, and 16 in south Georgia, the TWC report said.
The last time the death toll from tornadoes was this high after the first two calendar months was in 2008, when 66 were killed in January and February combined. Fifty-seven of those 66 deaths occurred during the so-called Super Tuesday Outbreak, Feb. 5-6, 2008.
The 20 tornado deaths that occurred this January were the most for the month since 1969, when 32 were killed, according to the SPC.
By the end of January, the tornado death toll in 2017 had also already surpassed what we saw in all of last year. 2016 was a below-average year for both tornadoes and tornado deaths. A total of 17 people were killed by tornadoes during the entire calendar year, the SPC said. That was the second-fewest tornado deaths in a year on record dating to 1940.
For comparison, an average of 70 tornado-related deaths occurred annually from 1986 to 2015, according to NOAA data.
Many of the tornado deaths in January occurred in a situation meteorologists fear most: tornadoes that develop overnight or early in the morning, when most are asleep. All four deaths in Hattiesburg and 11 of the 16 deaths in southern Georgia happened when tornadoes struck in the early-morning hours well before sunrise.
Two of the three deaths on Tuesday also came after sunset.
When there is a severe weather threat, always be sure to have a way to get warning information that’ll alert you of any danger. This link will provide you with resources on how to protect yourself from dangerous overnight severe weather episodes.