By Jennifer Gray, CNN meteorologist
Seventy-six: It’s the number of tornadoes the Jackson, Mississippi, area has experienced in less than five weeks.
If it doesn’t sound exhausting, I don’t know what does.
Every week, having to monitor the weather for the potential for severe weather — tornadoes, hail, damaging winds — all of it. It’s exhausting for the forecasters and it’s exhausting for the people living it.
“And sure, I know I’m fatigued by it and I’m sure others are,” said Hunter Dickerson, a lifelong Jackson resident and recent storm victim.
“Every Wednesday for the past month has been either a tornado warning or watching the news to see if you need to get your safe spot,” he recalled.
From March 22 through April 17, there were storms each week.
They have produced numerous tornadoes and caused numerous lives to be rattled. I believe storm fatigue has set in across the Southeast.
And this week, we could see it again.
A record-breaking spring
“We’ve had one of the most active springs so far in recorded history, as far as the number of tornadoes have been documented,” said Eric Carpenter, National Weather Service (NWS) meteorologist in Jackson. “I’ve been in this office about 25 years now. And this is definitely one of the busier stretches I’ve endured.”
His office has put out 70 tornado warnings since March 22, far more than any other NWS office in the country.
Carpenter told me on the phone in some cases they are still surveying the tornado damage from the previous week, then the next round of storms comes through.
“The folks who live here are accustomed to periods of real active weather,” Carpenter acknowledged. “But this definitely has been more active than typical.”
An above-average season
In fact, nationwide, the tornado count is way up compared to the average.
So far this year, the US has had 562 preliminary tornado reports. On average, we typically see 426 at this point in the year.
I spoke with Bill Bunting, chief of forecast operations at the Storm Prediction Center (SPC) a few weeks ago about how storms have been hitting the same areas week after week.
He explained the placement of the jet stream is driving the storms, and how storms following similar patterns is not as uncommon as you might think.
“The atmosphere has a fairly chaotic component to it, but it does occasionally get into patterns where we see this repeatability. We’ve seen it in all seasons,” Bunting explained. “And unfortunately, for the past month, the pattern that we’re in is one of periodic, fairly low latitude, upper-level storm systems moving across the southern US.”
Too close for comfort
Hunter Dickerson explained the increase in severe weather has been obvious, as he told me on the phone about an enormous tree which fell in his yard during the storms just a few weeks ago while he was home with his two sons, ages 5 and 7.
“We didn’t hear the sirens go off or anything like that. We had been watching the news and I thought well we’re clear. Then all of a sudden it got real bad really quick,” Dickerson recounted. “I don’t know if it was a tornado or not. But some strong winds came right back and knocked the tree over and we got down in our safe spot after that.”
He considers himself extremely lucky the tree did not land on the house with the three of them inside.
“I just took it for granted that with most of the warnings I’ve never had anything affect me,” Dickerson admitted. “So, I guess it was a cautionary warning to me.”
Storm fatigue has hit the Southeast
But Mississippians aren’t the only ones exhausted by the storms.
Mayfield, Kentucky experienced a deadly EF4 tornado which killed at least 70 people.
Shawn Triplett lived through the storm and noted every time there’s severe weather now, they pack up and leave home.
“We find a restaurant that’s got like a decent structural integrity or a hotel or hospital,” Triplett said. “Every single time there’s a big major storm coming that’s what we do. I know lots of people that do the same exact thing.”
In fact, this photo was posted on Twitter on April 13 when severe weather struck the same region.
Hundreds of people went to Mayfield Elementary to seek shelter, and to seek each other, quite possibly.
“They just wanted to band together I guess, even though ironically, the school isn’t rated to be a storm shelter,” Triplett observed.
An EF1 tornado touched down less than three miles from the elementary school.
Luckily, no one was injured.
“It’s not like a blizzard where you can just hunker down and start a fire. It’s random. And that draws even more anxiety than most weather problems would do,” Triplett pointed out, as he mentioned the PTSD many residents in the area still feel today.
The pressure to stay informed and stay safe is weighing on the residents of towns hit repeatedly, and it is weighing on the forecasters who hold people’s safety in their hands.
“The tornadoes with these types of events make things really tense trying to warn for those because they can spin up really fast and folks don’t have a lot of lead-time sometimes. That’s a tough situation,” Carpenter stated.
More storms this week
And that leads us to this week’s threat: The sixth week in a row of severe weather.
“The final Monday of the month will feature shower and thunderstorm chances stretching along a cold front that reaches from the Lower Great Lakes to South Texas,” wrote the Weather Prediction Center (WPC) in its forecast discussion. “There is the potential for repeating rounds of heavy rain to impact areas between the Lower Mississippi Valley and southern Texas.”
The shower and storm chances will remain in place through midweek.
The good news is, the tornado threat remains low.
This is the time of year we typically see severe weather shift from the Southeast to the Plains, but we all know this year has been anything but typical.
The Plains will see a threat for severe weather by Friday, as a strong area of low pressure moves into the region from the Rockies.
The SPC has highlighted an area including portions of Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Nebraska for the potential for Friday’s storms.
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CNN meteorologists Judson Jones and Haley Brink contributed to this article.