MYNORTHWEST WEATHER

Does Washington get tornadoes? Here’s what you need to know:

May 11, 2024, 4:49 PM | Updated: 6:37 pm

Photo: This May 21, 2020, photo provided by Victor Gensini shows a tornado in Moscow, Kan....

This May 21, 2020, photo provided by Victor Gensini shows a tornado in Moscow, Kan. (Photo: Victor Gensini via AP)

(Photo: Victor Gensini via AP)

In recent weeks, there has been a rash of tornadoes across the nation from the mid-section to near the eastern seaboard. In fact, the town of Barnsdall, Oklahoma, north of Tulsa, has been hit by a tornado twice in just five weeks.

May historically has the most tornadoes of any month in the year across the U.S. By May 8, there have already been 129 preliminary reports in the month, according to the National Weather Service’s Storm Prediction Center. That number of tornadoes was above the usual amount for May.

In April, 378 tornadoes were reported across the nation.

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Several listeners recently asked: does Washington get tornadoes? The answer is yes, yet fortunately not many. Washington averages between two and three tornadoes per year. Some years there were none reported. In 1997 though, a record 14 tornadoes occurred.

Most tornadoes in Washington are weak and last less than two minutes. Many are EF0 or EF1 in intensity with wind speeds under 110 mph. The Pacific Ocean helps moderate the air mass across the state, resulting in fewer thunderstorms and those storms tend to be of less intensity than their cousins east of the Rocky Mountains.

Tornados are borne from thunderstorms. Thunderstorms in this region can occur any time of the year, but the number tends to peak in the spring and fall during the transition seasons between winter and summer. As a result, the threat of tornadoes can occur throughout the year but also tends to peak during the spring and fall seasons.

A tornado is a rapidly rotating column of air in contact with the ground. A funnel cloud does not touch the ground. A waterspout is a tornado over water like Puget Sound.

Despite the influence of the Pacific Ocean, Washington has had some stronger tornadoes when a more unstable air mass, like helium balloons that rise without any help, supports more intense thunderstorms.

The Dec 2018 Port Orchard EF2 tornado was generated from a thunderstorm and had wind speeds of between 110 and 135 mph.

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Washington has suffered three EF3 tornados since 1950, two occurring on the same day — April 5th, 1972. Vancouver was hit by one, striking a school, grocery store and bowling house, killing six people and injuring over 200. Washington actually led the nation in tornado deaths that year. Later that same day, another EF3 tornado touched down outside of Davenport west of Spokane.

The other EF3 tornado occurred in early Dec 1969, starting as a waterspout off Des Moines and tracked into the Green River valley. Fortunately, there were no injuries.

Like thunderstorms with lightning, get indoors if a thunderstorm approaches. Remember, tornados are borne from thunderstorms. For safety, get into an interior room without windows or a basement if available.

Ted Buehner is the KIRO Newsradio meteorologist. You can read more of Ted’s stories here and follow him on X, formerly known as Twitter.

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Does Washington get tornadoes? Here’s what you need to know: