New Orleans is no stranger to natural disasters. In 2005, the area was devastated by Hurricane Katrina after the cyclone’s storm surge overwhelmed the city’s levees.
Then on March 22, 2022, an EF3 tornado struck the eastern part of New Orleans and nearby Arabi. The tornado injured two people, killing one of them.
On Wednesday, another apparent tornado struck the same part of New Orleans. The tornado was rated an EF-2, which makes it a "strong" tornado. Wednesday’s tornado was part of a multi-day tornado outbreak across the South.
Dozens of tornadoes were reported from Texas to Florida. An official number will be given after the National Weather Service conducts assessments of the damage.
How did this area get struck by two tornadoes in the same year? The answer is at random, said Harold Brooks, who has a doctorate in atmospheric sciences and is a senior scientist with the National Severe Storms Laboratory.
“If you look at all the places in the country, the probability that some place will get hit twice, given the fact there are a lot of places, is a lot higher than if you were to say what are the chances of the Lower Ninth Ward getting hit twice in the same year, that is an incredibly small number,” Brooks said. “It’s like if you’re the world’s worst dart player, you’d eventually throw two darts in the same location.”
The New Orleans tornado shows that myths that tornadoes are less likely to strike urban areas are untrue. Other cities in recent years have seen large tornadoes. Three years ago, an EF-4 tornado swept through Dayton, Ohio, marking the largest tornado to hit the state in over a decade.
“Urban areas are no different than other areas,” Brooks said. “Urban areas rarely get hit because they’re relatively small in the scheme of things. They aren’t huge (geographically). If we ever thought tornadoes didn’t hit urban areas, that was always a myth. There was a lot of evidence that was untrue going back to the 19th century.”
According to National Weather Service data, Louisiana experiences 39 tornadoes annually. Unlike sections of "Tornado Alley,' which are likely to have a higher total, Louisiana is among just seven states that average at least one tornado per year each month— Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Texas and Missouri being the others.
Louisiana is near the Gulf of Mexico, which provides the state with warmth and moisture year-round. Generally, that warmth and moisture do not make their way to northern states in the winter.
However, there are exceptions. A total of 94 tornadoes were reported in the Upper Midwest between Dec. 15-16, 2021. The two strongest tornadoes occurred in Hartland, Minnesota, and Stanley, Wisconsin.
“New Orleans at this time of year is under a higher threat than say an Oklahoma City or a Kansas City,” Brooks said. “You’ve got warm, moist air.”