Are Maryland Tornadoes Rare?

A look into Maryland Tornado Climatology

By:  Mike Masco

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Believe it or not, experts have ranked Maryland THIRD for the most tornadoes per 10,000 square miles over the last couple of decades. Maryland sits in a prime spot for tornadoes, given its proximity to the mountains and the bay. Down sloping winds off the mountains enhance thunderstorms while winds off the Chesapeake aid these thunderstorms in turning tornadic.  Amazingly, Maryland ranks higher in tornado concentration than Oklahoma, Texas, Iowa, Tennessee, and Alabama; which are all notorious tornado states.  One thing that favors our high ranking is the fact Maryland is the ninth smallest state in the nation. The relatively small land area Maryland occupies should suggest a lower ranking however, data over the last couple of decades has shown an explosion in the number of tornadoes from year to year.


The tornado climatology of Maryland reflects massive tornadoes registering between EF3 to EF4 (winds 138-199mph) to hundreds of smaller tornadoes ranking between EF0 to EF1 (winds 65-109 mph).  


In 2002 an F4 tornado with winds over 200 mph struck La Plata.  The tornado carved a 64 miles path through four Maryland counties while moving at an astounding 58 miles per hour.  The speed of this tornado gave little preparation time to residents in its path.  Three people were killed that day with another 122 injured as a result of the tornado.



1995 registered as one of the most active years for tornadoes in Maryland with a total of 24 touchdowns only to be followed a year later by 20 tornado touchdowns in 1996.  


The most tornadoes to touch down in the state came in 2004.  35 tornadoes formed as a result of Hurricane Ivan's track across Maryland.  Ivan left more than a dozen people hurt in the state.


Harford county alone has seen over ten tornadoes since 1992 mostly registering between EF0 and EF1 status.  According to the National Weather Service, in 1980 an F2 tornado struck Aberdeen destroying homes and property, uprooting trees and telephone poles. Winds associated with that tornado register between 118-161 miles per hour.


The most recent outbreak of tornadoes came only a year ago in 2011.  Nineteen tornadoes touched down in Virginia and Maryland causing death and destruction.  Maryland saw at least six tornadoes in Carroll, Baltimore, Prince George's, and St Mary's counties.  


So while Friday's outbreak seems to be an extremely rare situation, which in many cases it was; history tells us that anyone in Maryland is susceptible to the furry of mother nature. 

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