NASA/USGS

How El Niño saved you from a tornado this spring

Earlier this year, scientists predicted that 2015's tornado season would likely be fairly tame, because El Niño—a global weather phenomenon marked by unusually warm surface waters in the eastern tropical Pacific—prevails and suppresses twister development across much of the nation. Now, with the peak tornado months of April, May, and June behind us, those predictions seem to have come true. For the first half of 2015, the Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Oklahoma, reports a preliminary count of 817 tornadoes striking the United States, 19% below the 10-year average of 1006 tornadoes; the tornado shown here struck Halstead, Kansas, in May. Moreover, through 28 June, tornadoes killed only 10 people, far fewer than the 70 people killed during the first half of 2012, the 45 people killed during the first half of 2013, and the 37 people killed during the first half of 2014. The big question for next spring is whether El Niño persists or instead yields to its often more deadly opposite: La Niña ruled much of 2011, the year when a fierce tornado devastated Joplin, Missouri, and killed 158 people.