Be prepared: Winter tornado season below normal, it only takes one

  • Published
  • By William Roeder, 45th Weather Squadron

The east central Florida 2016-2017 winter severe weather season is predicted to be well below normal in January transitioning to below normal as the season progresses through April. Fewer and weaker tornadoes than usual are expected but it only takes one, so be prepared. 


A weak La Niña is present and is expected to slowly dissipate over the next few months. A La Niña is below average water temperature in the equatorial Pacific. It causes the jet stream to stay further north than normal, guiding winter storms away from Florida and causing the storms that make it to Florida to be weaker than normal. Fewer and weaker storms mean fewer and weaker tornadoes.


The winter tornado season in central Florida usually peaks from February to April.  However, our winter tornadoes can strike as early as December.


East central Florida has been fortunate that the past nine winters had few tornadoes. However, this period of calmer weather may lull people into complacency. Newer residents may not even know that our worst tornadoes occur during the winter months.  Even if the season ends up being below normal, as we learned with Hurricane Matthew, it only takes one bad weather event to disrupt our lives.


Rainfall is also expected to be below normal, which could lead to an active wildfire season in our area in early 2017, primarily from March through May. Although we are not yet in a drought condition, the weather over the past two months has been drier than normal. The temperature outlook is for warmer than normal, but that outlook is less certain than the other outlooks and freeze events are possible regardless.


Tornado safety is an easy 2-step process.

Step-1 -- Have A Plan: Identify the safest room in your building and ensure everyone knows the plan. This applies at both home and at work. The safest rooms are on the lowest floor, farther inside with as many inside walls between you and the outside wall as possible. Small rooms with solid construction like restrooms and closets and with no windows are best. A strong table and thick pads such as a mattress can protect against falling debris. Helmets for motorcycles or sports can protect your head. People in mobile homes or other weak portable buildings should seek proper shelter elsewhere.


STEP-2 -- Keep Informed:  The 45th Weather Squadron gives the potential for severe weather at Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in their daily 24-hour and weekly forecasts via  The 45th Weather Squadron can usually predict the conditions for severe weather a few days in advance in winter.  If the threat continues, 45th Weather Squadron then issues a Severe Weather Watch with a desired lead-time of four hours for Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and Patrick AFB. Finally, if tornadoes are imminent or observed, the 45th Weather Squadron issues a tornado warning with a desired lead-time of five minutes for Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and Patrick AFB. Follow local procedures for adverse weather.


At home, stay informed about approaching weather. When not at Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, the best source of weather information is the National Weather Service in Melbourne. They provide the potential for severe weather in their general forecasts via They issue a tornado watch when tornadoes may develop, and issue a tornado warning when a tornado is imminent or observed.


If severe weather is likely, ensure you and your family review a safety plan, and know where your safest room is located. If there is time before the high winds start, secure any loose outside materials and close protective shutters, but don’t put yourself in danger to do so. If a tornado or severe weather watch is issued, listen for weather warnings and be ready to act. If a warning is issued for your area, go to your safe room immediately. Regardless of whether a warning is issued, go to your safe room if threatening weather approaches – there may not be time for an official warning to get to you. You can also monitor local TV and radio for weather information.


When not at Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, one of the best ways to be alert to severe weather is to buy a ‘NOAA All Hazards Radio’.  This is essential if you live in a location without a tornado siren.  However, even if you live near a tornado siren, it may not be loud enough to wake you while asleep inside your house.  Most of the winter tornadoes in central Florida occur at night.  Tornadoes between midnight and dawn are 2.5 times more likely to kill than tornadoes during the day because people are sleeping and either do not hear the warning or do not react quickly enough.  A NOAA Radio by your bed is loud enough to wake you, and they provide alternatives for the hearing and visually impaired. These radios do not cover 2 percent of the country, so test your reception to be sure you’re covered.


When not at Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, having a second way to receive severe weather warnings is recommended. For example, Wireless Emergency Alerts send local tornado warnings directly to your mobile device. This free service is available from all major service providers and uses a loud audible alert.  Wireless Emergency Alerts does not require manual set-up or a subscription, it is automatically configured and ready to receive tornado warnings on modern smart phones.  Many smart phones and other mobile devices have free or low cost apps for weather information like tornado warnings and weather radar.


Our current winter tornado season is expected to be below normal but it only takes one  Are you prepared?  For weather safety training, contact William Roeder, 45th Weather Squadron at 321-494-8410.