Cuomo says ‘we don’t get tornadoes’ in NY, but we’ve had at least 417
Syracuse, N.Y. — Gov. Andrew Cuomo told reporters last week that the rare deadly tornado that struck Madison County on July 8 was part of a “new normal” of extreme weather.
“We don’t get tornadoes in New York, right? Anyone will tell you that,” Cuomo said at a news conference July 8 in Smithfield, where the tornado struck. “Well, we do now.”
In fact, we always have.
Since the federal government started keeping a tally in 1950, New York has had at least 417 tornadoes. That’s an average of seven per year.
“For him to say we don’t get tornadoes in New York was incorrect,” said Scott Steiger, a SUNY Oswego meteorology professor. “He didn’t do his homework. Severe weather has happened in New York for a long time.”
New York has averaged seven tornadoes a year since 1950. The number was about five a year before 1990, and has been about 10 per year since then.
The increase could be because more tornadoes are happening or simply that more are being reported.
“Are we seeing more events or are we just knowing more about the events that we didn’t know about before?” asked Bill Bunting, operations chief at the Storm Prediction Center in Oklahoma. “I would say probably we don’t know, but a lot of it’s the reporting.”
Bunting said that smart phones and social media have made it easier for people to send evidence of tornadoes to researchers. The National Weather Service, for example,confirmed a tornado on Sunday after being sent pictures and video over Facebook.
“In my 29 years with the National Weather Service, it’s become a lot easier for us to become aware of events,” Bunting said.
The weather service has confirmed eight tornadoes in New York so far this year.
Even if more tornadoes are hitting New York, it’s not clear that’s because of climate change. Tornadoes are caused by a complicated set of factors, including thunderstorms loaded with moisture, and wind shear in the upper atmosphere.
While climate change would be expected to increase the instability of those storms, Bunting said, it might also be expected to reduce wind shear.
“The evidence that looks into whether or not severe thunderstorms or tornadoes will increase in a warming world is inconclusive,” he said.
Because the numbers of tornadoes is relatively low in New York, and because so many can pop up at the same time, the statistics fluctuate widely from year to year.
There were just four tornadoes in 2012, but 23 the year before.
Tornadoes are spawned from heavy thunderstorms that sweep across the region, so they tend to come in batches. The Smithfield tornado was the strongest of five that struck New York on July 8. On May 31, 1998, New York had 13 tornadoes.
New York’s tornadoes tend to be less intense and long-lasting than those on the plains. Tornadoes are rated on the Enhanced Fujita scale from zero to 5. New York tends to get storms from EF-0 to EF-2. The Smithfield tornado was at the top end of an EF-2, with wind speeds of 135 mph. The biggest one in New York this year was an EF-3, which hit May 23 in Warren County.
The last death from a tornado in New York before last week was September 2010, when one person was killed in Queens.
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