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Global Warming Impact on Severe Thunderstorm Days in the Future

April 12, 2013; 9:46 AM ET

New research from Purdue university suggests that a doubling of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere would significantly increase the number of days that severe thunderstorms could occur in the southern and eastern United States late this century.

The goal of the study was to compare the summer climate in the United States during the the 2072-2099 period with the past period of 1962-1989.

The research team, led by Robert Trapp, focused on global warming's potential impact on summer wind shear and convective available potential energy, which is otherwise known as CAPE.

CAPE is a measure of how much raw energy is available for storms; it relates to how warm, moist, and buoyant air is in a given area. Wind shear is a measure of how the speed and direction of winds change with altitude, according to the NASA report.

Scientists have evidence that global warming should increase CAPE by warming the surface and putting more moisture in the air through evaporation. On the other hand, disproportionate warming in the Arctic should lead to less wind shear in mid-latitude areas prone to severe thunderstorms. So one factor makes severe storms more likely, while the other makes them less so. (from the NASA report)

Predicted change in severe thunderstorm environment days from the 1962-1989 period to the 2072-2099 period.

This particular modeling study found that the eastern U.S. will see an increase in severe thunderstorm environment days during the summer, while the West will see little change or a slight decrease. The greatest increase in days is expected to occur along the Southeast U.S. coast and in a region around Missouri.

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of AccuWeather, Inc. or AccuWeather.com

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