The tornado outbreak sequence of May 2019

By Ian Livingston and Katie Wheatley

Tornadoes in the main outbreak region from May 17 through 30. Map last updated June 3 in the evening. (Katie Wheatley)

Volleys of tornadoes touched down for 14 straight days beginning May 17, 2019. As of June 3, 295 twisters have been confirmed* per the hard-working crew over at Wikipedia.

Amidst a stuck and active pattern, four major waves of upper-level low pressure passed through the Central U.S. over the two week period, each one helping spawn these daily events from the High Plains to the Northeast.
The sequence ended May 30 as the final wave of the grouping moved offshore after producing severe weather in the Mid-Atlantic.

Key stats

While the tally of tornadoes from this extended outbreak is set to surpass an average for the month around 270 twisters, it truly stands out for the second half of the month (May 16-31).

*as of June 3, preliminary numbers

Filtering out the weakest of tornadoes, the preliminary 163 confirmed EF1+ twisters in this stretch has set a new top mark for the back half of May since 1950. 2019 has seemingly surpassed the 155 EF1+ in 2004 and the 147 EF1 or greater in 2011.

[How peak tornado season ends up active or quiet in the Plains]

The biggest day of the series came May 27 when 59 tornadoes occurred, including an EF4 in and around Dayton, Ohio. The next day another EF4 happened near Lawrence, Kansas. These twisters became the second and third violent (EF4+) tornadoes of the year. The first touched down in March and hit Beauregard, Alabama, following a record-breaking lack of them in 2018. At least four tornadoes caused fatalities, with a toll now at seven.

Given a preliminary total of at least 362 tornadoes in the month overall, May 2019 is sitting just outside the top 5 Mays on record for tornadoes. The number one spot there is 542 twisters in 2003. Two through four when it comes to the most tornadic Mays are 2004 (509), 2008 (460), 1995 (394), and 2015 (381).

DayTornadoesEF1+Strong+Max EFMax SPC
May 17, 20191796303-Enh
May 18, 201919168303-Enh
May 19, 201920150102-Slt
May 20, 20191194305-High
May 21, 201925163303-Enh
May 22, 201919155304-Mod
May 23, 201915112304-Mod
May 24, 20191670103-Enh
May 25, 20191062303-Enh
May 26, 201927141204-Mod
May 27, 2019592210403-Enh
May 28, 201916126404-Mod
May 29, 201939113203-Enh
May 30, 2019210102-Slt

Pattern plots

500 mb of the sequence

[Weather patterns that favor lots of tornadoes during each month of the year]

Maximum Storm Prediction Center tornado probability

Note that not all tornadoes shown occurred during the max outlook shown. (Ian Livingston)


May 17

May 20

May 21

May 22

May 23

May 24

May 25

May 26

May 27

May 28

May 29

*note: map above does not include two confirmed tornadoes, 1 in CA, 1 in ID. There were also 3 warnings; 2 in CA, 1 in ID. Given the busy nature of the map as is, we wanted to focus on the main outbreak region even if the western tornadoes were associated with the same upper-level troughs of low pressure.

Numbers here are preliminary and subject to change. Updates to this post will generally be once a day as new items develop. Last updated June 3 at 7:30 p.m. EDT.

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2 thoughts on “The tornado outbreak sequence of May 2019”

  1. Max Shaw says:

    I think the NWS has upgraded the Dayton tornado to EF-4 now? This article still has it listed as EF-3!

    1. Ian Livingston says:

      Yes, this was posted in the morning. We probably won’t update more than once a day in general. Have some new stuff to add in the morning tomorrow so will correct then!

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