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Potential Link between Tornado Intensity and Climate Change

August 7, 2014; 3:58 PM ET

Climate change could be playing a role in the strength and density of tornadoes in the United States, according to a researcher from Florida State University.

Geography Professor James Elsner, who is an expert in climate and weather trends performed a thorough analysis of data and found that even though tornadoes are forming fewer days per year in the United States they forming at a greater density and strength than in the past.

Elsner and his associate examined the annual number of days with many tornadoes and the ratio of these days to days with at least one tornado and by examining the annual proportion of tornadoes occurring on days with many tornadoes.

To give an example, Elsner says that instead of one or two tornadoes forming on a given day in an area, there might be three or four occurring.

I (Brett) wonder if one possible reason for this (density change) could be the increase in detection of tornadoes within a thunderstorm complex due to radar advances, storm chasers and social media. Meaning that tornadoes that may have been missed in the past are much more easily detected today. It would be nice to be able to read the actual study and see how far back the data went.

Excerpt from the Florida State University News story....

Elsner, said in the past, many researchers dismissed the impact of climate change on tornadoes because there was no distinct pattern in the number of tornado days per year. In 1971, there were 187 tornado days, but in 2013 there were only 79 days with tornadoes.

But a deeper dive into the data showed more severity in the types of storms and that more were happening on a given day than in previous years.

The story also notes that Elsner found that the geographic areas most impacted by tornadoes did not appear to be growing.

To sum up, the risk of big tornado days featuring densely concentrated tornado outbreaks is on the rise, according to Elsner.

The results of this study broadly consistent with numerical modeling studies that project increases in convective energy within a tornado environment, according to the study abstract.

This research was just published in the journal Climate Dynamics.

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


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Climate Change
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