Tornadoes are terrifying no matter when they strike. Seeing and hearing such a force of nature approach is enough to scare anyone. The high winds and flying debris cause enormous amounts of damage and often result in fatalities. Now imagine one coming in the middle of the night. The danger in the dark – nocturnal tornadoes – rank among Nature’s deadliest severe weather.
According to Dr. Greg Forbes, a severe weather expert at The Weather Channel, “Nocturnal tornadoes are particularly dangerous for several reasons. One is that it’s nearly impossible to see the tornado coming, so getting and heeding warnings is crucial. Another is that people are often asleep and caught unaware. People are usually at home, often in structures that are not as sturdy as their place of work. Mobile homes are particularly vulnerable.”
His suggestion regarding any severe weather is proper planning ahead. “Be sure you know your safe location ahead of time so you can get there quickly, even if you have to get there in the middle of the night. Keep flashlights handy. Have a NOAA weather radio as a way to get tornado warnings at night.”
Dr. Forbes remembers some particularly deadly nocturnal tornadoes. “There have been many infamous nocturnal tornadoes. One struck Evansville, Ind., on Nov 6, 2005, nearly all of the fatalities in mobile homes. Deadly nocturnal tornadoes struck Florida on Feb. 23, 1998, and Feb. 2, 2007.”
Other Deadly Nocturnal Tornadoes
- Edgewater, Ala.: April 8, 1998 – 32 fatalities
- Riegelwood, N.C.: November 15, 2005 – 8 fatalities
- Greensburg, Kan.: May 4, 2007 – 10 fatalities
- Newbern, Tenn.: April 2, 2006 – 16 fatalities
As we move into spring and severe weather season ramps up, nocturnal tornadoes become an even greater concern. Not only are they more difficult to prepare for, as noted above, but that difficulty makes them deadlier than their daytime counterparts.
Northern Illinois University conducted a study of tornado fatalities. The study showed that the number of fatalities caused by nocturnal tornadoes has increased over the past 100 years. Conversely, fatalities caused by daytime tornadoes have decreased over the same time period. In fact, the researchers found that nocturnal tornadoes are 2.5 times more likely to cause fatalities than those during daylight hours.
We’ve seen the incredibly destructive power of tornadic activity in the Gulf Coast region this spring, with 13 tornadoes touching down in one day. The danger isn’t confined solely to this region, though it has been hit harder than normal this year. If you are in an area that experiences tornadic activity, please follow Dr. Forbes’ instructions and be prepared. It may make the difference between life and death.