Be prepared: Winter Tornado Season to be well above normal

  • Published
  • By William Roeder
  • 45th Weather Squadron
The 2015-2016 east central Florida winter severe weather season is predicted to be well above normal.  More and stronger tornadoes than usual are expected. 

Are you prepared? 

A very strong potentially historic El Niño is already occurring and expected to persist through spring 2016.  An El Niño is above average water temperature in the equatorial Pacific.  It causes the jet stream to dip further south than normal, guiding winter storms toward Florida and helping those storms be more intense. More and stronger storms mean more and stronger tornadoes.

Florida has nearly 17 times more significant tornadoes (EF2 or higher) in El Niño winters as compared to non El Niño winters. You are four and a half times more likely to die from a tornado in Florida during an El Niño winter than a non-El Niño winter.  More information on the winter severe weather outlook in central Florida is available from the National Weather Service Melbourne Forecast Office at the National Weather Service website.

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

Florida has been fortunate that the past eight winters had few tornadoes.  However, this period of calmer weather may lull people into complacency. Newer residents may not know that our worst tornadoes occur during the winter months.

Tornado safety is a two-step process.

STEP-1 -- Have A Plan:  Identify the safest room in your building and ensure everyone knows the location. 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 can protect you 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 their daily 24-hour and weekly forecasts and can be found online at The 45th WS can usually predict the conditions for severe weather a few days in advance in winter. If the threat continues, 45 WS then issues a Severe Weather Watch with a desired lead-time of four hours for CCAFS/KSC and Patrick AFB. Finally, if tornadoes are imminent or observed, the 45th WS issues a Tornado Warning with a desired lead-time of five minutes for CCAFS/KSC and PAFB. Follow your local procedures for adverse weather.

At home, stay informed about approaching weather. The National Weather Service in Melbourne gives the potential for severe weather in their general forecasts and can be found online at They issue a Tornado Watch when a potential tornado develops and a Tornado Warning when a tornado is imminent or detected.

If severe weather is likely, ensure you and your family reviews your safety plan, and knows 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 in doing 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.

One way to become alert to severe weather is to have a 'NOAA All Hazards Radio,' formerly known as 'NOAA Weather Radio' at 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. Most of the winter tornadoes in central Florida occur at night. Tornadoes between midnight and dawn are two-and-a-half 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 easily loud enough to wake you, and they provide alternatives for the hearing and visually impaired. NOAA Radio doesn't cover two percent of the country, so test your reception to be sure you're covered.

Having a second way to receive severe weather warnings is recommended.  A FEMA/DHS program called Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) sends local National Weather Service tornado warnings direct to your mobile device at  This free service is available from all major service providers and uses a loud audible alert.  WEA does not require manual set-up or a subscription. It is automatically configured and ready to receive tornado warnings on modern smart phones.

Also, many county emergency management offices and most of the Orlando TV station websites relay official National Weather Service warnings for free direct to your mobile device via email or text message (charges may apply for receiving text messages). Some companies also offer this service for a small annual fee. Some of these services allow targeting of the messages to specific locations so you are notified only of warnings that affect you. You can even set different ring tones for these messages, e.g. a loud alarm.  Many smart phones and other mobile devices now have free or low-cost apps for NOAA Radio. Other apps can provide severe weather information such as National Weather Service warnings and weather radar.  The internet has a wealth of weather and weather safety information available.

Our current winter tornado season is expected to be well above normal.  Are you prepared?  Weather safety is easy and effective:  be prepared, keep informed, be safe. For more information about weather safety or weather safety training, contact the 45th Weather Squadron at 321-853-8410.