As you might suspect given the time of year it falls, the Christmas holiday is not often visited by tornadoes. Every now and then, the ingredients align to produce tornadoes throughout the winter months though, and Christmas has not escaped totally unscathed.
As recently as 2009 tornadoes struck on Christmas Eve, and as recently as 2006 tornadoes struck on Christmas Day. In total, since 1950, there have been 86 tornadoes on Christmas Eve and 30 tornadoes on Christmas Day.
When it comes to recurrence, TWC’s Dr. Greg Forbes noted after the 2006 Christmas Day event that, “only 8 years since 1950 have had tornadoes on Christmas, about once every 7 years on average.” The stats are similar for Christmas Eve.
We have to go back to 1969 to find the Christmas Day with the most tornadoes. 12 touched down on that occasion. Two in the early morning in Louisiana, with the rest happening from midday through the afternoon across Florida (9) and Georgia (1). One person was killed by an F3 tornado before dawn in Louisiana during this event, and 17 were injured in the three states.
The largest Christmastime outbreak, and one of the largest winter tornado outbreaks on record, happened in 1982. A deep upper-level trough moved from the western United States and into the South from the 23rd through the 24th and 25th, spawning a strong surface low and numerous tornadoes centered on Arkansas and Missouri.
The cumulative number of tornadoes from the 1982 outbreak was 43, with 27 of them occurring on Christmas Eve. A number of strong tornadoes touched down during this outbreak, including an F4 that tracked 63 miles from north-central Arkansas and into Missouri during the late day.
December tornado climatology tends to favor the South, and Christmastime tornadoes follow in those footsteps.
When combining Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, Florida leads the group of states impacted with 25 tornadoes since 1950. Louisiana, Georgia, Arkansas and Alabama close out the top five states for tornado hits on both dates combined — all with 13 or more tornadoes. Louisiana has seen the most Christmas Eve tornadoes with 19 on record, and Florida has seen the most Christmas Day tornadoes with 19 on record.
The strongest tornadoes to drop on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day are a pair of F4s. In addition to the one noted above in 1982, another touched down early on Christmas Eve 1988 in Tennessee. Maximum tornado track lengths on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day are 75 miles and 21 miles, respectively. Both of those tornadoes happened in 1964 in Georgia.
Christmas Eve and Christmas Day rating breakdown (F/EF): 0 (39%), 1 (31%), 2 (20%), 3 (8%), 4 (2%), ? (1%)