2018 record quiet year for U.S. tornadoes, fewest deaths recorded in more than a century

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OKLAHOMA - With 2018 now in the books, it's proven to have been an all-time record shattering year for tornadoes in the United States, but not in the way you might think.

For the first time since 1950 there were no violent tornadoes reported -- not just in Oklahoma -- but around the country. The U.S. also saw the fewest deaths from killer tornadoes since records began more than a century ago.

Tornadoes are the most violent of all atmospheric storms and, on average, responsible for dozens of deaths in the United States each year.

Any number of deaths is a tragedy, no matter the year. But 2018 set a record for the fewest deaths since unofficial records began in 1875. In 2018, 10 people were killed in nine killer tornadoes, with no deaths in Oklahoma: two deaths in Maryland and one death each in Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, Mississippi, North Dakota, Tennessee, and Virginia.

Improvements in warnings also likely played a role in keeping the number of deaths down.

The number is remarkable compared to the previous ten years -- especially when compared to 2011, which recorded 553 deaths. Of those, 14 were killed in Oklahoma.

2018 also saw another tornado record first: no violent twisters (categorized as EF-4 or EF-5) since those records started in 1950. While the U.S. was spared from violent tornadoes, North America was not. The most violent twister of 2018 was an EF-4 that touched down in Manitoba, Canada, killing one.

So how did 2018 become one of the least deadly years for tornadoes, and instances of violent tornadoes? Well, a lot of it had to do with the tornado season (which is roughly from March until early June), and the meteorological elements required to spawn tornadoes being interrupted by arctic air.

“Although not extremely rare, it was interesting to see the arctic outbreaks were in control from late March all the way through about May 8, and it effectively shut down the tornado weather pattern by robbing the United States of instability -- the humidity and the warm temperatures -- to generate tornadic activity, even though the jet stream was there, you didn’t have the instability," said News 4 Chief Meteorologist Mike Morgan.

Morgan said even though the arctic air shutdown after the first week of May and the tornado count tried to creep up, summertime weather started to move in, robbing weather systems of the needed ingredients to produce mild to violent twisters.

"To get violent tornadoes, you've got to really have a rich heat and humidity environment. Combined with the jet stream," Morgan said. "If you don’t have both of those together, something's got to give. In this case, 2018, it was the lack of violent tornadoes."

News 4 Meteorologist Damien Lodes contributed to this report.

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