The Truth is Powerful

Climate change and tornadoes: Any connection?

A slender tornado kicks up dust across the High Plains of eastern Colorado. (Photo credit: Bob Henson) Climate change may be the existential threat of our lives, yet when it comes to in-your-face weather, tornadoes are in a class of their own. Fortunately, human-warmed climate isn’t making violent U.S. tornadoes any more frequent. However, climate change may be involved in some noteworthy recent shifts in the location and seasonal timing of the tornado threat.

The United States is the global epicenter of tornado formation. An average of about 1,200 U.S. twisters are observed each year, with some years bringing as few as 900 and others as many as 1,600-plus. It’s all the result of a unique geography that allows hot, dry air from the Southwest to flow atop moist, warm, unstable surface air east of the Rockies, with cold air at the jet-stream level overtopping it all. This layer cake of winds and air masses, varying with height, supports development of rotating supercell thunderstorms, the kind that produce the most long-lived and intense tornadoes. Even weaker non-supercell storms can collectively spawn hundreds of twisters each year.

The total number of U.S. tornadoes observed each year roughly doubled from the 1950s to […]

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