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Expert Alert

Contrary to popular belief, tornadoes are common in urban areas, U of M expert says

May 23, 2011

As North Minneapolis woke up today to the aftermath of yesterday’s deadly tornado storm, people are trying to make sense of how this unthinkable event could have happened. A University of Minnesota severe weather researcher who can provide insight is:

Kenneth Blumenfeld, visiting assistant professor, Department of Geography, College of Liberal Arts

Blumenfeld says that contrary to popular belief, tornadoes are just as common in urban areas – including major urban areas – as anywhere else. “If the ingredients are there, the evidence suggests you can get tornadoes just about anywhere,” Blumenfeld says. “Getting those ingredients together is really the key, and east of the Rockies, that happens with enough regularity that many urban areas have been and will continue to be hit by tornadoes.”

Minneapolis has had four tornadoes within its city limits over the past 30 years, Blumenfeld says. “If you extend the record back to the early 20th century, you expect a tornado roughly every decade or so.”

Blumenfeld says Minnesota is near the beginning of this year’s tornado season because the state just had its first confirmed tornado on May 10, but it is difficult, if not impossible, to predict what this season will hold.

“In an average year, tornado season begins right around now, but average years are hard to come by,” Blumenfeld says. “Last year, for example, we set a state record for tornadoes but did not have our first until June 17. Other years we've had them as early as March or as late as November. In any year, the dates of the first and last tornado and the length of the tornado season have weak associations at best with the total number of tornadoes, the number of days with tornadoes, the severity of the worst ones or the total human and monetary impact.”

Blumenfeld’s teaching and research interests include extreme and hazardous weather, including tornadoes, flash floods and blizzards.

To interview Blumenfeld, contact Jeff Falk at (612) 626-1720 or jfalk@umn.edu; or Tessa Eagan at (612) 625-3781 or teagan@umn.edu.

Expert Alert is a service provided by the University News Service. Delivered regularly, Expert Alert is designed to connect university experts to today's breaking news and current events. For an archive and other useful media services, visit www.umn.edu/news. Views expressed by experts do not represent the views of the University of Minnesota.

Tags: College of Liberal Arts

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