It was deja fury all over again in the Midwest this week, where devastating tornadoes seemed to pick up where they left off last spring. Hardest hit were Branson, Mo., where twisters killed three, injured 32 and caused heavy damage to its popular country music theaters, and Harrisburg, Ill., which reported six dead, more than 100 injured and at least 200 homes destroyed.
Fortunately, the storms hit a week before the onslaught of tourist season in Branson. Unfortunately, experts expect more of the same in the coming weeks.
Forecasters at AccuWeather.com predict a higher-than-average tornado season again this year, sort of a second act to 2011, which ranked as the fourth most deadly on record. There were 1,709 tornadoes last year, which just missed the record of 1,817 set in 2004.
What's with all the twisters? Two words, en espanol: La Nina. Apparently when water temperatures in the central and eastern Pacific cool, as they do in La Nina years, the jet stream strengthens, spreading "Tornado Alley" eastward from Texas and Kansas into the Gulf States and the Ohio and Tennessee valleys. This year, above-normal Gulf temperatures are expected to fuel the thunder storms that produce tornadoes.
The AccuWeather prognosticators say March likely will be the active month for residents of eastern Texas and the Gulf States, while April will tend to bring more tornadoes to the lower Ohio and middle Mississippi valleys.
From Oklahoma, North Carolina and Virginia to as far north as Minnesota, few states in the eastern half of the country were spared tornado damage in 2011. Insurers paid out $1.13 billion in claims following the May 22 tornado that flattened a third of Joplin, Mo., destroying an estimated 7,500 homes and killing 161. Catastrophe modeling firm AIR Worldwide estimated the losses from April 2011 alone at $3.7 billion to $5.5 billion.
Got homeowners insurance? If you live in the Midwest, Mid-Atlantic or Deep South, now might be the time to review your coverage and brace for another active tornado season.
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