Are You Prepared for the Fall Severe Weather Season?

Hopkins Co. Tornado of November 15th, 2005. Photo by Leonard Costanzo.
Hopkins Co. Tornado
We all know about spring and severe weather. Spring and violent weather seem to go hand-in-hand for much of the southern and central United States, and Kentucky is often in the weather crosshairs. During this transition from winter to summer, the clash of warm moist air colliding with the cold dry Canadian air nearly always sets the stage for some of the most violent weather that Mother Nature has in her arsenal.

According to the National Weather Service’s Storm Prediction Center (SPC), May and June are the peak months for tornado and other aspects of severe weather development. But there is also the surprising statistic, at least to the lay-person, that late autumn also has a surge of severe weather. This “second season” occurs mainly across the southeast portion of the United States, including Kentucky, with November as the focus of the greatest number of fall severe weather occurrences. In fact,
over the last decade, the Lower Ohio/Middle Mississippi Valley, including much of Kentucky, ranks among the nation’s highest frequency of strong and violent tornadoes and several of these violent and deadly tornadoes have occurred during the fall months.

Here are a few other facts...

  • The nation’s strongest tornado in 2005 occurred in Kentucky - the Hopkins County F4 that struck Nov. 15, 2005. This was the strongest tornado in Kentucky since the May 28, 1996 Bullitt County F4.
  • The F3 tornado that was spawned over Henderson County around 2 AM on Nov. 6, 2005, killed 25 people just as it crossed into Vanderburgh County, Indiana. A separate F3 tornado occurred in Crittenden County, KY during the same hour.
Severe Weather Reports by Month for Eastern Kentucky
Severe Weather Reports by Month

Why a resurgence in tornado potential in the autumn months? It all has to do with a combination of fast jet stream winds and strong frontal systems which reappear in fall. During the late summer months when thunderstorms are common, winds throughout the atmosphere are rarely strong enough to allow tornadoes to form. During the spring and fall however, a strong gradient of temperatures across the hemisphere typically drives powerful jet stream winds, and creates much stronger frontal systems which help initiate thunderstorm development.

Here in eastern Kentucky, the fall severe weather season is not as pronounced as over western Kentucky. However, strong tornadoes have occurred during the fall. An F2 tornado occurred in Clay County on December 11th, 1967, and two more F2 tornadoes occurred in Laurel and Owsley Counties on October 1st, 1977. One of those tornadoes ripped a 2 mile path through Laurel County injuring 16 people. In recent years, fall tornadoes have occurred in Laurel County (November 2007), Bath County (November 2007), Estill County (October 2009) and Bell County (October 2010).

Being ready for severe weather is not just for the spring season. Tornadoes and other forms of severe weather can happen year round, day or night. For more information on severe thunderstorms and tornadoes including safety tips and educational sites for children, visit the National Weather Service’s Severe Weather Awareness Page. is the U.S. government's official web portal to all federal, state and local government web resources and services.