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March brings the beginning of spring severe weather season in Alabama


March officially begins the spring severe weather season in Alabama. This is the most active time for tornadoes in the state. Primary tornado season is early March through May, with the greatest number of tornadoes occurring in the month of April.

Forecasters say the early spring months see moist and warm air combining with cold fronts moving from the eastern part of the United States. This often creates the perfect conditions for twisters to develop.

National Weather Service

“The pattern during that time of the year really supports the track of these systems to move across the mid-south region and up into the Ohio Valley. And that's occurring, because the upper-level winds are starting to retreat to the north on as we transition from the winter season into the summer season,” explained Daniel Martin, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service (NWS) in Birmingham.

Martin said tornadoes that develop in the early spring are often associated with strong, frontal systems that form in the central states and move east.

“That retreat of that upper-level jet allows the systems to move across a zone that ends up being more favorable to produce severe weather, just because of where those systems are oriented during that time of the year,” he explained. “So, when you have certain ingredients that come together during that time of the year, it tends to increase the frequency of severe weather that we see.”

The NWS database shows that during these months of greater threat of severe weather, Mobile and Baldwin Counties have historically suffered the most tornadoes compared to other Alabama counties.

Although the spring months see the most severe weather systems, meteorologists say a secondary severe weather season occurs in November and December. According to the NWS, on Dec. 10, 2023, a severe storm system moved through Alabama causing widespread wind damage. This system also included four brief tornadoes in Jefferson, Barbour and Lee Counties. In Jefferson County, the tornado winds reached 100 miles per hour causing damage across over a three-mile area.

National Weather Service

Martin said that in 2023, Alabama had 65 confirmed tornadoes, which is above average compared to past years. As of January of 2024, there have been six documented tornadoes in the Yellowhammer State, according to the NWS. Two of those twisters both occurred on the morning of Jan. 9 in Houston County within the span of two hours. One of these tornadoes in the Cottonwood area resulted in one fatality, while the other caused no fatalities nor confirmed injuries.

The NWS says an El Nino phase is currently making the climate warmer and wetter. Forecasters say El Nino patterns typically bring more precipitation to the Florida area. This storminess increases the risk of severe weather. However, meteorologists predict that a transition to a neutral phase will occur between April and June this year.

Martin said that during this neutral phase, the threat of severe weather is suppressed to an extent. He said the Southeast will see a normal or above average amount of rain but no as much severe weather. Martin said the Alabama tornado season in 2024 is expected to be relatively average compared to past years, with only a few severe weather events predicted to happen during the spring.

“Just like any other spring season around here, folks need to make sure that they’re prepared and that they have a way to receive an accurate forecast, [and] they check on those forecasts and have a place they intend to take shelter if they’re ever under a warning,” Martin warned.

He also said Alabamians should have an emergency kit on hand and ready in the case of a tornado warning. Martin stressed the importance of knowing the difference between a watch and warning when it comes to tornadoes.

The NWS says a tornado watch indicates the possibility of a tornado occurring in the area, while a warning indicates a tornado has been spotted and people should take action to get to their safe area.

Forecasters say the safest place in a home during a tornado warning is the interior part of a basement. If the home does not have a basement, families should find the most interior room on the lowest floor with no windows.

Local meteorologists also warn that tornadoes can strike at any time and place, and preparation is key to survival. NWS experts say the most important safety precaution for tornadoes is planning ahead. They stress that all residents should have an action plan to put in place in the event of a tornado whether it be at home, at work or elsewhere.

The weather service also stresses that one of the most important ways Alabamians can be prepared for severe weather is to know where they are. Forecasters say not knowing your location and the counties around you could cost valuable time when storms are approaching.

The NWS has amap with information about sirens and alerts for each of Alabama’s 67 counties. Find more information on tornado safety here.

Gracie Powell is a student intern at Alabama Public Radio. She is from the small city of Thomasville, AL, planning to graduate from The University of Alabama in May 2026. She is studying Public Relations with a minor study in General Business. In her free time, Gracie loves to listen to music, watch TV and spend time with friends and family.
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