With such images of devastation over the past week, what about the D.C. area? Could such a powerful tornado happen here close to home?
With one of the largest outbreaks of tornadoes in recorded history hitting the United States this past week, pictures and videos of the storms and the devastation they left behind have continued to stream into the media outlets. The tragic loss of life from the storms as of Friday afternoon from AP stands at 318. This is on par with the number of deaths by the April 3-4, 1974 Super Outbreak, which claimed 335 lives.
An EF-5 tornado with winds of 200 m.p.h. was recorded in Mississippi, which was the first EF-5 tornado on record since the 2008 Parkersburg, Iowa tornado. If that one doesn’t ring a bell, I know the 2007 Greensburg EF-5 tornado will, which was the EF-5 tornado prior to Parkersburg. EF-4 and EF-5 tornadoes make up less than 1% of recorded tornadoes, which is on the order of around 1000 per year for the United States. There have only been 53 EF-5 tornadoes since 1950.
So what about locally? Do we have to worry about such devastating tornadoes occurring in our neck of the woods? I decided to look back at the records in the DC area over the past 50 years to see how many significant tornadoes (rated EF-2 or higher) there were.
Maryland had 14 tornadoes over the past 60 years with EF-2 damage or greater. This includes 2 tornadoes in the past 10 years that were very memorable for the area, such as the La Plata tornado on April 28, 2002, and the College Park tornado on September 24, 2001. The La Plata tornado was first thought to be an EF-5, but was later downgraded to an EF-4. It did considerable damage to the downtown area, and I can quote Doug when he told me, “I drove through the city many times before, but I got to the middle of town and had no clue where I was. Nothing was left, no landmarks, nothing to be used as a point of reference.”
Virginia recorded 29 tornadoes with EF-2 damage or greater, including the Stafford tornado that damaged numerous homes in a subdivision in 2008, and numerous tornadoes that occurred from the remnants of Ivan in 2004. D.C. did not record a single tornado of EF-2 tornado in the past 50 years. All storm data was acquired through the NCDC storm events page.
With 43 significant tornadoes in our viewing area in the past 60 years, it should be noted that strong tornadoes can and do occur in the region. It should also be noted that any tornado is dangerous and can be fatal if you are caught in it. You cannot tell the strength of a tornado by its size or appearance, so if there is ever a warning for your region, be sure to take the proper safety precautions.