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El Niño and the Upcoming Tornado Season

El Niño recently made an entertaining impression on audience members watching the Grease: Live! telecast. But if only its impact was limited to forcing singers and dancers to temporarily take cover beneath umbrellas. Unfortunately, El Niño poses a much bigger threat than many people know—particularly in the case of the approaching tornado season. Let’s take a closer look at the issue, along with how organizations can prepare and protect themselves and their constituents from the potentially deadly combination of El Niño and tornado season.


The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) defines El Niño as “the large-scale ocean-atmosphere climate interaction linked to a periodic warming in sea surface temperatures across the central and east-central Equatorial Pacific.” Although they are irregular in frequency, El Niño episodes can occur as often as every two years and may last for up to 12 months at a time. Not only that, but concerns about climate change are prompting weather experts to warn of stronger, more frequent storms in the future.

While El Niño mostly brings to mind thoughts of torrential rain, a Columbia University Study published last spring in the scientific journal, Nature Geoscience, also reveals a troubling link between El Niño and tornado frequency—particularly in Tornado and Dixie alleys.

According to the report, even in a “weak” El Niño, Oklahoma, northern Texas, Arkansas, northern Mississippi and Louisiana have a 10 percent higher likelihood of experiencing severe weather on top of the average 1,000-plus tornadoes recorded every year. Southeast Georgia and Northeast Florida, meanwhile, have already been experiencing more frequent severe weather due to the influence of El Niño—with the late winter and early spring “tornado season” still ahead.

Cautions the study’s lead author John Allen of Columbia’s International Research Institute for Climate and Society in the Earth Institute, “It’s important to remember, though, that even the most quiet seasons still produce 800 tornadoes.”


One of the most challenging aspects of preparing for tornadoes is their vast unpredictability. in fact, the National Weather Service (NWS) can typically give no more than 15 minutes of advance warning to people when a tornado is about to touch down. While this is a huge improvement on the five minutes (or less) warning we might have had back in Dorothy’s days, it’s still precious little time for people to take shelter.

One of the first steps in maximizing the time you do have is to understand the warning system and to educate your constituents, as well.

Issued by NOAA’s Storm Prediction Center (SPC), tornado watches simply indicate that conditions are favorable for a tornado. A watch offers the ideal opportunity to review your emergency plan, inventory your supplies, and check your shelter.

Tornado warnings, meanwhile, are issued by the local forecast office of the National Weather Service (NWS) and mean that tornados are an imminent threat in your area. A tornado warning requires immediate action: take shelter, avoid windows, and protect yourself from flying debris.


While national agencies are hard at work looking for ways to improve disaster warnings, organizations can help ensure that essential and even life-saving messages are heard by having a communication plan in place and ready to go.

With 59 percent of tornados taking place during business hours, it begs the question: Is your organization fully prepared for tornadoes and other weather-related emergencies Many forward-thinking organizations are turning to prerecorded message systems including critical instructions and information which can be simultaneously delivered to all relevant constituents in less than seconds.

While no one likes to think it’s going to happen to them, the statistics say otherwise: an average of 80 deaths and 1,500 injuries are attributed to tornadoes every year—and these numbers are likely to climb with the escalation of El Niño. The tragic truth? Many of these deaths and injuries could have been avoided with better warning systems and more comprehensive communications plans in place.

Send Word Now’s emergency messaging system is the perfect solution for reaching dozens, hundreds, even thousands of contacts within minutes via phone call, text message or push notification. It’s simple to use and requires no software, hardware or additional phone lines. Visit Send Word Now to find out how to make sure your organization is ready to get the message out when it matters the most.