Why does my town always (or never) get hit?

In spring of my senior year in college I joined a few other meteorology students in skipping class to go storm chasing. Now don’t judge me, this wasn’t truancy in its purest form. In fact we had the blessing of our weather professors to dodge the classroom for a day and do a little field research on our own. The next day we found ourselves sitting at a Subway in a tornado warned area of rural Iowa. As we planned our next move the worker behind the counter asked what we were doing. After hearing we’re storm chasers the worker laughed and said “Don’t you know the storms don’t come here. They always go around us.” About 20 minutes later a tornado touched down and started ripping apart power lines just up the road. In hind sight, I should have bet her a sandwich.

It’s a common belief that your own backyard or hometown is prone to severe weather. Others believe they have a magic dome that protects them from storms. Most people know that in the end, it all averages out.

There are no areas in southeastern Wisconsin that significantly get hit more or less than others. But our perception can make us think otherwise. We tend to pay attention to our own backyards more than other spots, it’s just natural. If I were to ask you the date of the Eagle tornado I bet you wouldn’t know. However, if you’re from Eagle, I bet you do know!

We also tend to have short memories. Weather averages are based off the most recent 3 decades of data. So even if the last 2 or 3 storm events missed your area, or hit you directly, it’s still anecdotal and fails to look at the big picture. Sure there are areas that have seen a few more tornadoes, a few more hail stones, a few more inches of snow. But the differences are rarely significant.

Finally, I considered naming this blog entry “You’re not special” but thought it sounded a bit mean. So I opted for the question answered above, “Why does my town always/never (pick one) get hit?” And now you know it really doesn’t.

(Picture below showing severe thunderstorm stats. Numbers are higher for counties covering more ground and counties with more people to report the event)