The New York Times has updated its interactive timeline of tornadoes and notes that, with the deaths from yesterday’s outbreak in Joplin, Missouri, 2011 is the deadliest year since 1953. Curious to see where tornadoes occur the most (realizing, of course, that this is information that I could easily find elsewhere), I combined all the years into the single map above. Blue dots represent tornado touchdowns, and yellow circles represent deaths.
An interesting observation from playing the timeline is that there is a large, step-wise increase in the number of touchdowns starting in 1996. Compare the number and spread of tornadoes since 1996 to the previous 45 years:
Except for 2011, the number of deaths for each year in this recent period is not significantly different from that of the previous years. Is the higher reported incidence of touchdowns due to better reporting, or have there really been more tornadoes in the last 15 years?