Thanksgiving tornado warnings are a reminder that severe storms don’t take holidays

Social media lit up with bewilderment (and typical TV-induced anger) when nearly a quarter of a million people in suburban Houston came under a tornado warning on Thanksgiving Day.

A low pressure system moving along the northern Gulf Coast triggered a threat of severe thunderstorms on the northern Gulf Coast over Thanksgiving. Some of the severe storms began to turn, prompting this Houston tornado warning that preempted television broadcasts and sent thousands of people rushing from the kitchen to their safe places.

The tornado warnings that appear on Thanksgiving are an ever-present reminder that severe weather “season” in the United States is a giant misnomer and that dangerous thunderstorms can strike any day of the year.

Although there is a huge increase in extreme weather in spring and early summer, the south is also particularly susceptible to severe thunderstorms in late fall and early winter.

RELATED: Turning on your phone’s emergency alerts could save your life

Thunderstorms are common in the spring because low-pressure systems often turn when the encroaching heat of impending summer meets the lingering cold of a retreating winter. This same process works in reverse during the fall months, triggering increased severe storm activity in November and December.

Some of the largest tornadoes in recent memory have touched down during the cold season. On December 10, 2021, several destructive tornadoes touched down in western Kentucky, including an EF-4 that tore through a path over 100 miles long. A major tornado hit downtown Mobile, Alabama on Christmas Day 2012.

It is important to closely monitor forecasts throughout the year. The Storm Prediction Center (SPC) publishes daily forecasts of severe weather up to eight days in advance.

Local offices of the National Weather Service issue severe thunderstorm and tornado warnings when there is immediate danger within the next few minutes. Smartphones automatically receive free emergency alerts when a tornado warning is issued for the device’s location. These push alerts save countless lives every year.

Unfortunately, many people turn them off after a nuisance flood or child abduction warning. Make sure you have tornado alerts enabled on your phone and that you have at least one or two reliable weather apps that also alert you to severe weather alerts. The hum and chirp can be distracting, but these warnings can help you stay safe even when you’re offline.

The latest outlook from the SPC shows several areas at risk of severe weather through the end of November, including a potentially powerful risk of severe thunderstorms in parts of the south-central on Tuesday 29th.

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