Rare January tornadoes have killed three people in the region this week, two in Missouri on Monday and one Tuesday in Arkansas, with more twisters doing heavy damage in Wisconsin and Illinois. John Pollack, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service, says Iowans need to be prepared at all times because tornadoes clearly do strike during the winter months.
"It’s extremely unusual, particularly for Wisconsin. This is only the second time they’ve recorded a tornado in January. It’s pretty amazing," Pollack says. Iowa’s seen no tornadoes this year, but recorded 42 in all of last year, down slightly from the 20-year average of 47. The rash of tornadic activity this week was caused by a warm weather system that brought a high temperature of 68-degrees to the southeast Iowa town of Keokuk on Monday.
Pollack says: "Warm, moist air from the Gulf of Mexico penetrated all the way north past Missouri into southeast Iowa, northern Illinois and southeast Wisconsin. That is what provided the energy for this severe weather." He says he can’t rule out global warming as a possible cause for this latest bout of unusual, violent weather.
"It does seem that it’s been easier to get these warm, moist air masses farther north in the middle of winter than it used to be," Pollack says, "it is possible to say that we have seen a higher incidence of unusually warm, moist air in the cold season than what we had years ago and that change is quite possibly related to global warming."
State climatologist Harry Hillaker says while January tornadoes in Iowa are rare, the Hawkeye State was hit with 14 tornadoes on January 24th of 1967. Several of them were very powerful F-3 tornadoes. That same day, a total of 32 tornadoes hit Iowa, Oklahoma, Wisconsin, Missouri and Illinois, injuring hundreds of people and killing three, including one Iowa.