The Gulf of Mexico and ENSO influence on subseasonal and seasonal CONUS winter tornado variability

Maria J. Molina, John T. Allen, Vittorio A. Gensini

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

28 Scopus citations


El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) and the Gulf of Mexico (GoM) influence winter tornado variability and significant tornado (EF2+, where EF is the enhanced Fujita scale) environments. Increases occur in the probability of a significant tornado environment from the southern Great Plains to the Midwest during La Niña, and across the southern contiguous United States (CONUS) during El Niño. Winter significant tornado environments are absent across Florida, Georgia, and the coastal Carolinas during moderate-to-strong La Niña events. Jet stream modulation by ENSO contributes to higher tornado totals during El Niño in December and La Niña in January, especially when simultaneous with a warm GoM. ENSO-neutral phases yield fewer and weaker tornadoes, but proximity to warm GoM climate features can enhance the probability of a significant tornado environment. ENSO intensity matters; stronger ENSO phases generate increases in tornado frequency and the probability of a significant tornado environment, but are characterized by large variance, in which very strong El Niño and La Niña events can produce unfavorable tornado climatological states. This study suggests that it is a feasible undertaking to expand spring seasonal and subseasonal tornado prediction efforts to encompass the winter season, which is of importance given the notable threat posed by winter tornadoes. Significant tornadoes account for 95% of tornado fatalities and winter tornadoes are rated significant more frequently than during other seasons.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2439-2463
Number of pages25
JournalJournal of Applied Meteorology and Climatology
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 1 2018


  • Climate variability
  • Convective storms
  • ENSO
  • Intraseasonal variability
  • Seasonal variability
  • Tornadoes


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