Tornados and Climate Change

Like you, I have been distressed by the news clips showing Joplin, Missouri, USA , the DEVASTATION caused by the tornado that struck the city, the grief and shock on the faces of residents as they return and see that their homes, businesses, hospitals and schools have been reduced to little better than rubble.

In the late spring and summer months, tornados occur frequently in the US Midwest. This spring has been one of the worst in memory, bringing tornadoes of record intensity across several states. According to news reports, the Joplin tornado, which caused 116 deaths, was the most deadly to hit the US since 1947.

It would be an exaggeration to say that this tornado was caused by global warming, itself a consequence of the emission of Green House Gases (GHG) into the atmosphere. But climatologists and other scientists have been emphatic that there is a connection.

The increase in the level of CO2, a gas that traps heat in the earth’s atmosphere, is well established.  Increasing concentrations of CO2 are associated with more extreme weather events.  So the apparent trend of increasing frequency and intensity of tornados fits in with these observations.

Please follow this link for an interview with Stu Ostro, a Senior Meteorologist of the US Weather Channel.  He was a sceptic when it came to climate change, and still defends scepticism as a healthy foundation for scientific studies.

But from his studies of extreme weather events over the years, Ostro became convinced that the natural variability of the weather could not explain what he was observing.  Climate and weather are intimately and inexorably linked, and the trend to more extreme weather has its origin in climate change.

It is upsetting that general public recognition of climate change will be assisted by more events like the devastation of Joplin.

Peter Jones

P.S. May 2013.  Readers may be interested in the conclusion of a study by a number of eminent meteorologists in the U.S.

The study finds the most clear, but not 100 percent conclusive, link between climate change and extreme storms is in the increasingly heavy precipitation they have been producing. But it’s premature to paint a broad brush in conclusively linking climate change and tornadoes, hailstorms, ice storms, snow storms, and hurricanes.

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6 thoughts on “Tornados and Climate Change”

  1. Climate science suggests that global warming will make hurricanes like Irene more destructive in three ways (all things being equal):

    Sea level rise makes storm surges more destructive.

    “Owing to higher SSTs [sea surface temperatures] from human activities, the increased water vapor in the atmosphere leads to 5 to 10% more rainfall and increases the risk of flooding,” as NCAR Senior Scientist Kevin Trenberth put it in an email to me today.

    “However, because water vapor and higher ocean temperatures help fuel the storm, it is likely to be more intense and bigger as well,” as Trenberth writes.


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