By Paul Yeager, author of Weather Whys: Facts, Myths, and Oddities
The western Massachusetts tornado (near Springfield) on Wednesday was the latest example of the danger of thunderstorms and tornadoes, especially during the spring and early summer; however, it was not the extremely rare event as it seems to have been perceived.
The four deaths added to a particularly tragic season, including following quickly on the heels of the most tornado deaths in any single month. (May 2011 had 361 tornado-related deaths.)
Damaging and even deadly tornadoes in Massachusetts are not particularly rare. The state ranks 35th in the nation for the number of tornadoes, which is below the national average, but it ranks 16th in tornado deaths and 12th in amount of damage done (dollar value). These numbers are according to disastercenter.com.
The discrepancy between the number of tornadoes and the deaths/damage has to do with a couple of factors, including the high population density and the high property values. It also serves a reminder that heavily populated regions, including large cities, are not in any way immune to dangerous thunderstorms and tornadoes.
It is a weather myth that tornadoes avoid mountains and cities. Atmospheric factors are the sole determinating factors about whether a region is hit with a tornado.