CHICAGO — There are very few things more terrifying than the sound and fury of a tornado. Now, imagine trying to survive one that hits in the middle of the night.
Data shows that 1 in 50 daylight tornadoes turn deadly. That jumps to 1 in 20 for twisters that hit under the cover of darkness. Arkansas and Alabama saw 50% or more of the tornadoes that occurred coming as nighttime storms. North Carolina and Tennessee have similarly high rates of night tornadoes.
NewsNation meteorologist Gerard Jebaily says tornadoes require a lot of atmospheric energy to get going, and the combination of storms caused by daytime heating along with low-level jet stream winds that kick in after dark can breed nighttime tornadoes, otherwise known as nocturnal tornadoes.
Forecasters have more trouble anticipating the storms and identifying them in real-time, according to a report released earlier this year by NOAA’s Storm Prediction Center, as these tornadoes tend to form rapidly amid “quasi-linear convective systems” — i.e., a family or line of storms moving together.
Additionally, the traditional “tornado alley” in large part no longer exists, with storms spreading across the deep South and occurring in any month of the year. There’s really no “safe” time when the threat of tornadoes doesn’t exist.
Another factor at play is that more people are at home at night, and frequently those homes aren’t as well-built or sturdy as places of business. Mobile homes are infamous for becoming death traps during tornadoes, but older homes in poor repair or homes that weren’t built sturdily are also danger zones.
Most areas have automated weather warnings, but if people are in bed and have their cellphones muted, or if they’re not watching television where the warning will show, they won’t know of the impending danger.
The report, compiled by researchers with the NOAA, the University of Oklahoma, and the National Weather Center, among others, had also determined that the public was less confident they would see any warnings that were issued at night, and particularly between the hours of 12:00 a.m. and 4:00 a.m.
Your best bet is to have a weather radio that will activate when a weather warning is issued and keep it in your bedroom where it will wake you if danger approaches in the night.