How common are tornadoes in western Massachusetts

Weather News

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (WWLP) – The June 2011 tornado outbreak also set a new precedent for severe weather capability in western Massachusetts.

If you’ve lived here long enough, then you know tornadoes here in western Massachusetts aren’t all that common. But that tornado outbreak was significant enough to prompt new research that is helping meteorologists forecast tornadoes still today.

“This is probably one of the top weather events of my almost 31-year career in the National Weather Service.” Joe from NWS

That’s how one local meteorologist who surveyed the damage from the June 2011 Springfield tornado described the path of destruction.

“This was complete devastation.”

Many western Massachusetts residents thought they’d never see a tornado of such strength. A tornado described as a “50 to 60-year event” by the National Weather Service, and comparable to tornadoes in the plains and gulf coast.

That’s where moist air at the surface, and drier air very high in the sky combined with the flat terrain are conducive to tornado formation.

“You see your fair share of severe thunderstorms. You see a couple of trees down here and there. I never would’ve thought that you’d have a tornado.” Danny

“Debris from the train yard in West Springfield was thrown over, you know, pieces of wood were jammed into car, car doors.” Chris

The long-track EF-3 tornado infamously tore through downtown Springfield, first crossing the Connecticut River near the Memorial Bridge. It was one of four tornadoes that day, which was so rare for this area, that it made the National Weather Service in Boston want to study local tornado events further.

The National Weather Service went back to study 20 years worth of radar and environmental data.

“So the first thing we wanted to do was understand what are the environments they form in, do we have cold fronts moving in, do we have hot and humid days, that sort of thing. So, we looked at a bunch of those different parameters, and then we looked at the radar signatures. What do these look like on radar, is there anything we are seeing ahead of time before the tornado touches down.” Joe from NWS

That research is helping to forecast tornadoes locally today. That study helped them recently. They had a 30-minute lead time on their tornado warning for the Cape Cod tornadoes in 2018.

Simply put, the research prompted by the June 2011 tornado outbreak help to save lives in Massachusetts, even 10 years later.

Typically, Massachusetts averages just 4 to 5 tornadoes every year, and most of them are weak and are normally very short-lived, only on the ground for a minute or two.

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