Supercell Thunderstorms Raise Chances of Larger Tornadoes for Central New York
The tornadoes that touched down in Verona and Sauquoit on the same weekend as the heavy flooding in Central New York raise a legitimate question.
Could it happen here in Oneida County again, and more severely? The answer is: maybe.
The two recent tornadoes in Oneida County summoned winds of about 90-100 miles per hour, rated as EF-1, the second-lowest designation on the Enhanced Fujita Scale, which measures tornado intensity. Some damage occurred and no injuries resulted, but a similar twister in Herkimer County in 1970 and and EF-2 in Madison County in 2014 caused a total of five fatalities.
The strongest tornadoes, rated EF-5, bring winds of over 200 miles per hour. Are those nastier tornadoes possible in New York? It would be rare, but, yes, it's possible. And our own Naomi Lynn has written about the history of these storms in surrounding counties.
"Supercells are the storms more likely to put down tornadoes," says Eyewitness News Chief Meteorologist Rachael Witter. "The more of those we get, the better tornado chance. Since a supercell usually lives on its own, it doesn't have any other part of a storm using up energy, so they're stronger. That's exactly the setup we had for the Verona tornado."
Spring and summer is tornado season for much of the country, but, due to high temperatures and volatile conditions, the month of July is the likeliest time of the year for tornadoes annually in New York State, according to statistics published by ustornadoes.com.
On average, New York sees far fewer tornadoes than midwestern and southern states, but if conditions are just right, chances increase. 1998 featured a lot of supercell thunderstorms, heavy rain, and hail (similar to this year), and brought the Eastern Tornado Outbreak, spawning an above-average tornado count in New York and other eastern states.
We've had one of these elements in abundance this summer - rain. June's total in Utica alone was three inches above normal and May's total was five inches above average. July is already heading in that direction.
So, conditions in Oneida County may be conducive.
New York State averages about 9 tornadoes per year. If you want to guarantee your chances of seeing a really big tornado, like those scientists in the movie Twister, head to Texas, which averages 126 a year.