According to data from NOAA's Storm Prediction Center, during January, there were 168 preliminary tornado reports. This is nearly five times the 1991-2010 average of 35 tornadoes for the month of January. The primilariy tornado count places the January of 2023 only behind January 1999, which has the highest January tornado count on record (214). This is the first time since 2017 and only the third time since 1950 that January had more than 100 tornadoes during the month. Five days during the month produced the majority of the January tornadoes that will be briefly summarized.
January had several notable weather systems that brought severe weather and an unusually high number of tornadoes to portions of the United States. On January 2-4, a tornado outbreak occurred across portions of the southern Plains, Southeast and Illinois. A total of 61 tornadoes were confirmed by the National Weather Service. Nine of these confirmed tornadoes occurred in Illinois on January 3 – the highest number of tornadoes in January for the state since 1989.
On January 12, severe thunderstorms and tornadoes swept through parts of the Midwest and Southeast. The National Weather Service confirmed 69 tornadoes during this outbreak including two EF3 tornadoes. On January 16, two tornadoes were confirmed by the National Weather Service in Iowa – the state’s first January tornadoes since 1967. On January 24, a tornado outbreak occurred from coastal Texas to the Florida Panhandle causing significant damage to the region. A total of 23 tornadoes were confirmed by the National Weather Service including an EF3 tornado that carved an 18.7-mile long path across parts of Harris County and the Houston metro area - the first EF3 tornado in the county in nearly 21 years.
Of note, Alabama set a record for the greatest number of confirmed tornadoes for any January (since 1950) with 29, which breaks the previous record of 21 set back in 2017. Most of the tornadoes in the region occurred during two major severe weather outbreaks. The first outbreak occurred on the 3rd and 4th of the month with a total of 29 confirmed tornadoes (17 EF0s, 11 EF1s, 1 EF2). Twenty-two of these occurred in Alabama and Georgia, five occurred in South Carolina, and the other two occurred in eastern North Carolina and southeast Virginia. The strongest tornado was an EF2 that tracked across Elmore County, AL, about 15 miles (24 km) north of Montgomery. Dozens of homes were damaged and numerous trees were snapped and uprooted around Lake Jordan. Much of the damage from this outbreak included snapped and uprooted trees, damage to roofs and sidings, and vegetation damage. In a few cases, trees fell on homes and buildings, some of which were shifted off their foundations. Two injuries were confirmed from this outbreak. The second outbreak occurred on the 12th of the month and, like the first outbreak, resulted in 29 tornadoes, some across many of the same counties in Alabama and Georgia. However, this outbreak produced a greater number of strong tornadoes (4 EF0s, 12 EF1s, 11 EF2s, 2 EF3s) and numerous casualties (nine fatalities and at least 50 injuries). An EF2 tornado caused extensive damage in the town of Selma, AL. A daycare facility on the west side of town experienced partial roof collapse while children, infants, and workers took shelter in small interior rooms. Fortunately, no injuries were reported. There were numerous reports of trees down on homes, roofs blown off, and exterior walls that collapsed. One of the strongest tornadoes from this outbreak was an EF3 that tracked over 82 miles (132 km) across Autauga, Elmore, Coosa, Tallapoosa, and Chambers counties in east-central Alabama, making it the sixth longest path length for a single tornado in Alabama since 1950. Some of the most significant damage was recorded in the community of Old Kingston, located about 20 miles (32 km) northwest of Montgomery. Several manufactured homes and a few vehicles were destroyed and thrown considerable distances. Seven fatalities and at least a dozen injuries were confirmed in this area. Significant damage also occurred in southern Coosa County. A large number of trees were snapped and uprooted, and several vehicles were moved or flipped. Several structures were heavily damaged and at least one site-built home was destroyed. More damage was reported in Tallapoosa County, particularly around Lake Martin. Some homes around the lake had their roofs blown off, walls collapsed, or shifted from their foundation. The other EF3 tornado tracked for about 30 miles (48 km) across Pike, Spalding, and Henry Counties in central Georgia just south of Atlanta. This tornado was part of the larger mesocyclone that produced the tornado in Selma, AL. The most significant damage occurred in southwest Spalding County, where at least 250 homes were destroyed or sustained major damage. At least 18 injuries have been attributed to this tornado. A weather station maintained by the University of Georgia in the middle of the county recorded a wind speed of over 80 mph (36 m/s) before the instrumentation was blown off the tower. The damage path in this area, just west of the town of Griffin, was at least 2 miles (3 km) wide. While this tornado was occurring, another tornado formed to the east of Griffin and tracked over 30 miles (48 km) through Butts, Newton, and Jasper Counties. One person died and one person was injured when a tree fell on a vehicle in the Jackson Lake area. Another fatality was indirectly related to the tornado when a lineman was knocked out of his bucket while restoring power the following day in Jasper County. There were also at least 10 injuries associated with this tornado. The remaining tornadoes occurred towards the end of the month. Five tornadoes (2 EF2s, 3 EF1s) were confirmed across the Florida Panhandle and southern Georgia on the 22nd. Much of the damage included snapped and uprooted trees as well as some structural and vegetation damage. Damaging straight-line winds were also recorded on this day, including a 74 mph (33 m/s) gust at the Jacksonville International Airport. On the 25th of the month, three weak tornadoes produced mostly minor damage across the western Florida Panhandle. No casualties were reported from these tornadoes.
Did You Know?
Final monthly tornado counts are typically less than the preliminary count. This can be due to some phenomena being inaccurately reported as tornadic activity or a single tornado being reported multiple times. Tornado accounts are reported to the local National Weather Service forecast offices who are responsible for going into the field and verifying each tornado reported. This process often takes several months to complete. Once all reports have been investigated, the final count is published by the Storm Prediction Center (SPC).
The Tornado Monthly Climate Reports are written using the preliminary numbers because the final data is not available at the time of production. Historically, for every 100 preliminary tornado reports, at least 65 tornadoes are confirmed. An error bar is depicted on the tornado count graphic representing this uncertainty in the preliminary tornado count.
The following U.S. studies performed by SPC meteorologists offer deeper context and discussion regarding the frequency and distribution of tornado intensity climatologies:
Edwards, R., H. E. Brooks, and H. Cohn, 2021: Changes in tornado climatology accompanying the Enhanced
Fujita scale. J. Appl. Meteor. Climatol., 60, 1465-1482
- Mccarthy, Daniel & Schaefer, Joseph. (2004). Tornado trends over the past thirty years. paper presented at 14th Conference on Applied Meteorology.