It Spins Me Right Round: What’s The Big Deal With Tornadoes?

Atmospheric Science Students, Environment, STS Students

By Cory Schultz

If you look at the annual average number of tornadoes per country, the United States reigns supreme, whether we like it or not. And if we look at South Dakota, the state is not without its share of tornadic activity. For instance, as Dennis Todey, Jay Trobec, and H. Michael Mogil write, “A massive outbreak of tornadoes placed the state in the severe weather record book on the evening of June 24, 2003” (19). On that day, sixty-seven tornadoes touched down over a 6-hour period, a single-state record tornado occurrence.

So, you may be thinking to yourself right now, “I live in the Black Hills region of South Dakota. We don’t have a problem with tornadoes.” Well, what if I told you that tornado activity has increased in the Northern Black Hills of South Dakota in the last decade? This increase in activity is not typical for the Northern Black Hills, since only nine tornadoes have been reported in this region since NOAA started gathering tornado data in 1950. What makes this even more alarming is that, of these nine cases, four have occurred in the last decade. This increase is the focus of my capstone with my two-part research question: Do the Northern Black Hills tornadoes that occurred in 2015, 2018, and 2020 have any similar characteristics to each other? Will this help determine when new tornadoes will form over the same region? 

Map of the Black Hills showing tornado tracks and the strength of the tornadoes. A handful are circled west of Lead, SD.
Map of Northern Black Hills tornado tracks and strengths on the EF scale. Red circles indicate tornadoes being researched for this capstone. Source: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration