NC January tornado activity explained by WBTV's Al Conklin - | WBTV Charlotte

NC January tornado activity explained by WBTV's Al Conklin

Al Conklin Al Conklin

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) So, just how rare were the tornadoes that struck western North Carolina Wednesday evening ?

 Not as rare as you might think.

 Reliable record keeping on such events goes back more than 60 years and since 1950, 23 twisters have been reported across the Tar Heel state.  Not including Wednesday's tornadoes, four have touched down in the WBTV viewing area: two each in Iredell and Rowan Counties, but none in Burke or Rutherford Counties.

The vast majority of tornado touchdowns in the Carolinas occur during seasons of transition, namely Spring and to a lesser extent, the Fall.

 Looking back at the weather parameters present for Wednesday's tornadoes, the typical ingredients were there, but not at alarming levels.  True, there was wind shear – the twisting of wind with height – and the air was unseasonably warm, which allowed for more moisture content than what would normally be expected here in early Winter.  But based on the

best model data, it was a marginal case – at best.  So much so, the Norman, OK based Severe Storms Prediction Center, the branch of the National Weather Service charged with

issuing the large watch boxes you've become accustom to seeing on WBTV's weather maps over the years, did not even have a watch out for any part of the Carolinas!

But sometimes, despite the best possible forecast, things just come together.  And that's what happened Wednesday evening.

The WBTV Weather Team had been talking for many days about a stout front that was forecast to cross the Carolinas midweek, so the rain and predicted gusty thunderstorms surprised none of us.  The rain, the wind, the hail had all been in the forecast for several days leading up to the front's late-day arrival.  But not the tornadoes.

Hind-casting is always perfect, that's given.  But to take a simple frontal passage, even one with potential severe weather, and go out on a limb to predict home-destroying tornadoes, no meteorologist would make such a bold forecast and none in this TV market did.

In fact, the local National Weather Service office in Greer, SC – the one responsible for the actual issuance of warnings for the WBTV viewing area – did not pull the trigger on a tornado warning until 5:35pm, after they'd received confirmation from trained spotter on scene in Ellenboro that a tornado was on the ground.  The unfortunate timing did not allow for much – if any –warning for Rutherford residents, but did help set the stage for ample warning (issued at 5:48pm) for Burke County residents who did have time to take cover.

So, while these types of storms are not all that common here at this time of the year, they're not unheard of either.  And as we move closer to the February-March-April time frame, there may indeed be more and more bouts with severe weather, so stay tuned to WBTV and for the latest forecasts!

Meteorologist Al Conklin

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