Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Mecklenburg ... a tornado magnet

I wrote a few days ago about three recent Charlotte tornadoes, and a closer look at the archives shows something interesting -- Mecklenburg County has been hit with more tornadoes than any other North Carolina county in the region over the past 60 years.

The Storm Prediction Center's records show 20 tornadoes in Mecklenburg since 1950. For those of you into averages, it means the immediate Charlotte area gets a tornado about once every three years.

You'll notice I said Mecklenburg leads the area's North Carolina counties. That's because Chesterfield County in South Carolina has been hit with 22 tornadoes during that time.

I'll get into the county-by-county totals later, but this whole topic resulted from readers' questions about whether twisters ever hit the immediate Charlotte area. The classic perception of a tornado is a storm that rampages across farmland, but urban areas are not safe.

Christopher Burt, a meteorologist who has written a great book, "Extreme Weather," assembled a list of the 10 most tornado-prone cities, based on their location in parts of the country that received a large number of twisters.

No. 1 on his list is Oklahoma City, which he says has been hit more than 110 times, including an EF5 (the strongest level) in May 1999. No. 2 on the list is the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, which also has been hit dozens of times. Only one city in his top 10, Chicago, has never taken a direct hit.

So urban areas get their share of tornadoes.

Atlanta and the rest of Fulton County have been hit 27 times since 1950, including an EF3 in March 1975 that killed three and injured 152; and the March 2008 twister that hit during the Southeastern Conference basketball tournament, killing one and injuring 30.

Columbia and Richland County have recorded 34 tornadoes, the worst of which was an EF2 in May 1976 that caused one death.

Raleigh, which took a direct hit Saturday, had recorded 30 tornadoes before last weekend. That included an EF4 in November 1988 that caused two deaths, 105 injuries, and $250 million in damage.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg's 20 tornadoes include a pair of EF2's -- on Sept. 7, 2004, caused by the remnants of Hurricane Frances; and on March 10, 1992. That storm hit in southwest Charlotte, causing 18 injuries and $2.5 million in damage -- the most ever for a Mecklenburg twister.

Here is a look at the tornado history of other counties in the region:

Anson: 4.

Burke: 6.

Cabarrus: 11.

Caldwell: 6 (includes and EF4 near Dudley Shoals on May 7, 1988).

Catawba: 15.

Chester: 12.

Chesterfield: 22 (the Carolinas' biggest recent tornado outbreak, on March 28, 1984, produced an EF4 that caused $25 million damage and 24 injuries).

Cleveland: 17.

Gaston: 13.

Iredell: 16.

Lancaster: 11 (includes an EF4 in that March 1984 outbreak).

Lincoln: 19 (includes a killer storm during the big May 4, 1989, outbreak; the F4 tornado caused four deaths, 19 injuries, and $25 million in damage). Lincoln County is tied for third (with York County) in the area, behind Chesterfield and Mecklenburg, in tornado frequency.

McDowell: 3.

Montgomery: 7.

Richmond: 3 (this number was surprisingly low, because Richmond is in the Sandhills and more prone to the significant tornado outbreaks in the springtime).

Rowan: 9 (does not include Saturday's EF1).

Rutherford: 7.

Stanly: 10 (this county is living a charmed life, with no recorded tornadoes in 12 years).

Union: 16 (includes a killer storm May 5, 1989 -- an EF4 with one death and six injuries; the total does not include Saturday's EF0).

Watauga: 2.

York: 19 -- tied with Lincoln County for the third-highest total in the area.


Anonymous said...

I'm curious about the numbers. You said Charlotte had the most at 20, yet you later said Raleigh had 30. That would seem to indicate that Wake County had more than Mecklenburg, or was there a typo of some sort?

Larry said...

Anonymous on April 23 at 8:36am...................These were the numbers back to 1950. I am guessing that 30 that Raleigh had go back before the 1950's.

David W. said...

This is interesting. I wonder how many go unreported in the rural counties due to no major damage or because on no one even seeing it.