How Frequent are Tornadoes in New England?

May 22, 2013

It’s hard not to be moved by the plight of Moore, Oklahoma which was hit by a catastrophic tornado Monday.  Hundreds of buildings were flattened and at least 24 people, including nine children, were killed.

Experts say New England is less likely to be hit by a tornado than anywhere else east of the Rocky Mountains.  New England averages eight tornadoes a year, but they tend to be weak events – on the scale of EF0 or EF1.  The storm that hit Moore, Oklahoma has been categorized an EF5.

John Merrill, a meteorologist and professor of oceanography at the University of Rhode Island, says the conditions needed to form a tornado are less likely to exist in New England.

"The winds blowing off the mountains – the upper level winds – tend to enhance rotation in the atmosphere and that circumstance is common in tornado ally and Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska. And that circumstance is much less common here. It is possible for those circulations to occur here but those circumstances occur very infrequently."

There have been 34 killer tornadoes in New England’s recorded history. The most recent occurred on June 1, 2011 when a twister hit Springfield, Massachusetts, killing three people. The deadliest was the 1953 tornado that hit Worcester, Massachusetts, killing 94.