Spring 2015 seasonal tornado outlook

Tornado in northwest Oklahoma on April 14, 2012. (Zachary Biggs via Flickr)

Tornado in northwest Oklahoma on April 14, 2012. (Zachary Biggs via Flickr)

Meteorological spring is upon us, and it is time again to take a look at the spring tornado forecast. Are we going to see a repeat of the last two years with low tornado numbers? Or are we finally going to turn things around in 2015?

Not much is expected in the way of tornado activity through the first chunk of March. It’s early for much in most years anyway, but we do usually see an uptick as the month goes.

Looking at some of the teleconnection indices mentioned in the 2014 outlook and the 2013 outlook, it would seem that the near term would provide a shot or two for tornadoes. In this case, any activity is either too far north or too strung out to really get tornadic storms going.


Heading into the middle of March, the pattern looks mercilessly harsh for tornadoes, though maybe the West Coast could score a few tornadoes. After all, March is the peak climo month for tornadoes in California.

The pattern starts getting even more jumbled around once we hit the middle of March.

An +EPO/+WPO/+AO setup is expected around that time will be slightly more conducive to tornado potential.

This type of pattern generally supports troughs and digging storm systems in the western U.S. while warmer temperatures develop over an upper-level ridge in the eastern half of the country. However, it is still far from ideal. The core of the upper-level ridge of high pressure will likely be centered over the Great Lakes, which creates easterly/northeasterly flow across the Southeast. This type of low-level wind pattern struggles to tap into the Gulf moisture.


The El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) is not expected to be a major player in the overall pattern. It is anticipated to hold onto weak El Nino or fall into neutral positive territory.

Given that fact, I focus most of my forecast off of the strongly positive Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO), which has kept a persistent upper-level ridge over the western U.S. through most of the winter. While December was abnormally wet in the Southwest, January and February have been fairly dry. That’s generally not a good sign for getting tornadic storms in the U.S. The PDO will likely remain positive (perhaps strongly positive) through spring.

The ongoing drought conditions in the western U.S. helps promote a positive feedback of warmer and drier conditions across that region. A lot of the big tornado-producing storm systems move across the Southwest before ejecting into the Plains and eastern U.S. So, a tendency towards drier than normal conditions, with less disturbances in the Southwest, is expected to keep the tornado numbers down a bit.


The warmer and drier conditions in the Southwest helps keep the upper-level ridge over the western U.S., forcing many systems to drop down from the Northwest and western and Canada into the Plains. Not the best storm track for tornadoes.

We may be looking at another late season for more continual instances of tornado producing systems, unless we can get disturbances to cut underneath the prominent upper-level ridge in the western U.S. Of course, last year was relatively quiet early and still had several large killer tornadoes during that time.

My spring 2015 temperature and precipitation anomaly analogs:



The only notable caveat I would add to these analogs is I think the western U.S. will end up warmer and drier than the analogs indicate.

Bottom line…

I am expecting the tornado count for meteorological spring to be below normal again this year.

However, I do think we are in for a few good systems that move across the Southwest despite the drought and ridging. It probably won’t be enough to bring the tornado count up to near normal levels, but the season should still offer a handful of dangerous tornado days and probably some memorable periods for chasers as well.

Odds of the tornado count ending up below/near/above normal for meteorological spring:

Below normal: 50%
Near normal: 35%
Above normal: 15%

Long term forecasts, while generally providing added value to climatology, are still very broad-brush outlooks and do not offer a very consistent level of skill. This forecast only hopes to capture some of the most reliable information available to provide a best guess as to what spring may bring.

The following two tabs change content below.
Operational Meteorologist at WeatherBug (Earth Networks). See full bio.

44 thoughts on “Spring 2015 seasonal tornado outlook”

  1. Keith says:

    Fun to hear your thoughts. One thing for sure – seems we are following a similar weather pattern as past 2 years which would make it reasonable to assume a repeat performance this year. However, “patterns” are subject to change at anytime and there are enough unforeseen variables that could dash the best predictions going forward. So we wait and hope for things to change to our liking. Maybe we will all be pleasantly surprised.

  2. Kyle Whisman says:

    I live in Ohio, do you think we will still have a normal amount of thunderstorms this spring, regardless of tornados?!

    1. Mark Ellinwood says:


      Given the pattern I expect with storm systems dropping in from the northwest, in addition to the drier than normal conditions indicated by the analogs, I would lean towards lower than normal thunderstorm activity this spring.

  3. David Hoadley says:

    Can you characterize how accurate your previous seasonal forecasts have been, using the same parameters as shown above?

    1. Mark Ellinwood says:


      The 2014 forecast performed well, with a below normal tornado count in spring and a 50% chance that we would end up below normal (the highest of the three categories). The spring of 2013 was another below normal season, and I had a forecast for near normal numbers. That ended up incorrect, but I did think that there was more of a risk of it ending up quieter than normal vs. being more active than expected.

      So the seasonal forecasts have gotten off to a decent start, with one accurate prediction and one “not accurate but not that bad” prediction. Since spring tornado forecasts are still in their early stages (both for this site and for anywhere, really), it is hard to determine how well these kinds of forecasts perform over the long term. However, this being my third year of making a seasonal tornado forecast, I’ll have better confidence in the accuracy of such forecasts if this spring verifies as expected.

  4. Frank Madero says:

    “Meteorological spring is upon us, and it is time again to take a look at the spring tornado forecast. Are we going to see a repeat of the last two years with low tornado numbers? Or are we finally going to turn things around in 2015?”

    Turn things around ? TURN THINGS AROUND? You want Tornadoes to happen so you can get your adrenalin rush storm chasing? Real nice attitude with all he death and destruction caused by mother natures most fearsome phenomenon.. Stay classy dude..

    1. Ian Livingston says:

      Tornadoes are a natural part of the world. No one wishes they hit population. This is a site about tornadoes.. Obviously we think they are neat. 😉

    2. Mark Ellinwood says:

      I love these comments from people that don’t get what it’s like to enjoy tornadoes. We like what we like. It’s nature. It’s beautiful. We can’t stop them. We wish all tornadoes formed in open fields and never did any damage. We despise death and destruction, but a tornado’s going to do what a tornado’s going to do. Deal with it.

    3. Keith says:

      “… with all he death and destruction caused by mother natures most fearsome phenomenon..”

      That phenomenon is most certainly NOT tornadoes. We are all part of mother nature. I submit the carnage caused by people who condemn and demonize others for seeing things differently. Begins small with negative attitudes, lack of understanding, and leads to Syria, Somalia, Germany’s death camps, Stalin, Mao. What were you saying about death and destruction?

      Stay classy dude. Try to understand we don’t love carnage. We love weather. Peace

  5. heather says:

    How’s montana looking for this spring/summer

  6. David says:

    I live in northeast ill and was very pleased with 2014s thunderstorms …had some tornadoes as well ..I’m understanding it will be a slow start this year…do u think late spring things will change for me?

    1. William Sanders says:

      Also check out my page West Tennessee Storm Responders on fb.

  7. Richard Clarke says:

    I don’t know if I do feel things right but I feelththis year the tornadoes are going to be more than what we get in a year. God knows I hope I’m wrong on how I feel about this year. I live in central Illinois but it also says I like in southern Illinois and east about 50 miles from In. and do you think it’s going to be up or down in my part of Illinois.

  8. Joe Smith says:

    With your expectation of drier conditions in the west and southwest would it be fair to assume that the dryline might move farther east than usual and be a factor in the Midwest when we finally get good moisture and dews coming up from the Gulf into a system?

    1. Mark Ellinwood says:

      Moving a dry line further east still keeps it in the Plains most of the time. I don’t anticipate the typical dry line to be any further east than it was last year. To get a dry line in the Midwest, it typically has to be attached to a low pressure system, which is not a terribly common occurrence.

      1. Eddie says:

        Mr. Ellinwood…We live on the gulf coast in MS. (Gulfport) What about the tornado activity here? this year? I realize God is in control but doing what you do you have a good idea?

  9. Timothy says:

    Hey Guys, you are so right.They are beautiful if they are in a field and not destroying people lives.I live in Arkansas and last April’s Tornado changed people lives forever. I Pray we never see a day like that again. Be Safe out there. Timothy.

  10. TG-Johnson says:

    For some reason, I am a feeling a repeat of (or close to ) the 3/1966 Jxn weather event; not just that one in particular, but also a repeat of last year’s event -for Hinds, Rankin, Madison, Scott, Smith and possibly Warren, Yazoo and Copiah counties. Seems like a repeating cycle. I’m just an amateur but there’s something about the history details I keep going over.

  11. monet says:

    I live in Omaha Nebraska what are the chances for tornadic weather here? I’m no meteorologist but it seems like weather is getting more and more destructive all over. I love storms though. The destruction it causes is always devastating but there is something beautiful about them. Stay safe this year. Good luck to all the chasers hope you get some good footage and shots to share with us be safe and God bless!

  12. amanda says:

    Hi 🙂 I live in Ky what do you think about tornadoes here this spring/summer?

  13. Jerry says:

    Last year was a very active year here in Northwest Missouri as far as tornadoes. From the middle of May until the middle of June, it seemed we had a tornado warning about every other week. 2 or 3 of them caused quit abit of damage. Activity has seemed to pick up alittle more each year, for the last 2 years. I expect a repeat again this year. Just a gut feeling.

    1. Patrick says:

      I’m feeling good about this Spring as well. Last Spring was probably one of the most photogenic for us yet!

      1. jerry says:

        I feel the same. I think it will be an active season as well again.

  14. Lou Joseph says:

    Im suspecting tornado season is going to be very active in midwest ohio valley indiana chicago in the southern great lakes which we will high dew point and very high instability cape will be high.

  15. Max Broderick says:

    That comment from “Frank” really got to me. I lost my house May20/2012, I saw lots of things, Google my name if you want. But I can’t get over how much I love thunder storms and tornados. Yeah it sucks what happens when they come to town, and hit the school in my back yard (plaza towers). You just hope to be informed and prepared. I’m happy to have found a site with reasonable folks who appreciate weather in such a manner. I look forward to getting to know this site better, and I am looking forward to returning to the states for tornado season, the desert can stay over here, unless our drought continues.

    1. Dakota Taylor says:

      I did google your name. And i want to commend you for what you did. We need more people like you. I lost my house back in 2011 here in Harvest, Alabama.

  16. David F. says:

    Thank you for just posting this….I’ve been a tornado enthusiast for years & a have watched myself becoming more & more interested in seasonal tornado prediction (and just understanding weather in general). Sites like these are priceless for helping me learn. I’m from Dallas & was wondering when you think things will start picking up in the southwest this year? Also, what is the best software that you recommend for tracking a tornadic storm?

  17. matt m says:

    I loved tornadoes until May 31st 2013, Mike Morgan said to get south of I240 and it started to hit right around rush hour. My wife was 9 months pregnant and went into labor in a traffic jam with tornado sirens going off. I prayed that I would get to see my daughter and made a vowel that day that I would quit drinking. Now I have a beautiful daughter and no beer gut ;).

  18. Dom R says:

    It’s great to get some solid information. I can barely find any information on this years tornado prediction all the storm chasers are still talking about winter storms or sunsets I would have thought they would be creating youtube video’s giving break downs of the Tornado outlook. But hopefully about mid April.

  19. ryan hearne says:

    Hi, i am a teen storm chaser living in austin, Texas. I was wondering if Central Texas, and east Texas still have a chance at an above average severe weather season as accuweather, was pointing out.

    1. Andrew Berrington says:

      I wouldn’t put too much stock into Accuweather’s predictions, as a general rule of thumb. I do think the Panhandle region has a better shot at seeing a surprise or two for the first time in what seems like an eternity given the recent drought relief in the area.

  20. Courtney Chojnacki says:

    Hello! I am in Moore OK and am wondering how you think this season might look for us. Thanks and Rock on!

  21. Madeline Watkins says:

    Hi! I was wondering how the season might look in Apison, TN? Most of our tornados occur around late April, but I don’t know if it will be like that again.

  22. amanda says:

    I honestly think the south will see quite a bit of action …it’s been some what quite the last two years I honestly don’t see it going for another year like that..I could be wrong!! But my gut feeling says we are not going to get that lucky!! I personally find tornadoes interesting the way they work etc. Yes I hate that sometimes death and devastation comes along with it but that’s mother nature you can’t change that!!

  23. Abdella says:

    I live in Greensboro NC. Do you think we’re gonna get any tornadoes this year? Especially in april?

  24. Valerie says:

    I live in Illinois what does our Spring look like?

  25. sean cronin says:

    I forecasted the weather for nearly 25 years, been a storm chaser( still am ) for another 15 and a spotter for the weather service for all those years. I’ve done some seasonal forecasting by checking the last 3 or 4 weeks of each season and the first 2 or 3 weeks of the next season to get a fairly reliable idea of the long range forecast for each coming season. I am in Wisconsin and Iof very violent weather.ve been pretty accurate. This Spring I forecasted a generally slow storm season in the Midwest but with spurts.. Dont know if it works everywhere but its already accurate here. Try it.

    1. lynnette hernandez says:

      What do u see for this year???? I’m am very scared of storms in also in northern Wisconsin

  26. sean cronin says:

    Mid line above should have read……………I am in Wisconsin and my forecasts for violent weather have been pretty accurate…………..( sorry about the typing mishap I have a disability i am trying to deal with )

  27. sean cronin says:

    …….sorry, fingers not working right……………………… I am in Wisconsin and my forecasts for violent weather have been pretty accurate.This Spring I forecasted a generally slow `storm season in the Midwest but with spurts of very violent weather.Don’t know if it works everywhere but it’s already accurate here. Try it.

  28. Jenn says:

    Things have been dry and quiet in our party of North Dakota

  29. TEAM F Storm Chasing and Emergency Response says:

    Unfortunately I think you pretty spot on. It would be nice to see our tornado counts get back to average, but I don’t think this will be the year for it. Last year we only had one real good storm in Nebraska and unfortunately it took a small a chunk of a small town with it, I just hope we don’t see that repeat itself this year. But I wish the best of luck to all chasers, and hope everyone stays safe this year.

    ~Andrew R.

  30. lynnette hernandez says:

    Do u think western Wisconsin will get tornados as I have never been through one first year in Wisconsin. I come from Oregon where we never get them

Comments are closed.