Is climate change making tornadoes and storms in the Midwest worse?

Jun 26, 2019

Recently, tornadoes have been devastating Midwestern towns. With over 500 reported cyclones pummeling the United States this month, it has many people wondering if this has just been a particularly bad season for severe weather, or if climate change could be to blame for this year’s historic uptick in tornadoes. So, we asked our friends over at The Weather Channel to help answer the question, “Is climate change making tornadoes and storms in the Midwest worse?”

Here’s what Meteorologist Carl Parker had to say:

To answer simply — yes, climate change appears to be making extreme weather in the Midwest worse. However, due to the variability of weather, calculating exactly how climate change impacts extreme weather can be tricky. First of all, there is no reliable, long-term record of severe thunderstorms to analyze trends and to use to predict exactly how climate change will exacerbate these storms. Also, current long-term, theoretical weather models are somewhat inconsistent in their predictions and forecasting.

Despite these limitations, there are a few things that we meteorologists are fairly certain about when it comes to the effects that climate change is having on severe weather. Most notably, despite the fact that the average number of tornadoes has remained constant, there is statistically significant evidence of an upward trend in the power of tornadoes over the past 25 years, and at least a portion of that trend can be statically attributed to rising temperatures. Moreover, global warming trends have been linked to an increase in the frequency of tornadoes in portions of the Midwest and Southeast United States, areas outside of the conventional “Tornado Alley” of the Great Plains.

However, while meteorologists are unsure of the precise ways that climate change will continue to impact the severe weather in the Midwest, scientists were able to use weather modeling data to observe what atmospheric factors are associated with severe weather events and then predict what these atmospheric conditions will look like in the future as global temperature rises. Given this modeling, these scientists were able to predict that climate change will likely lead to an increase in the number of days per year with severe weather (Seeley 2014).

The science is there to say that climate change is most likely going to cause an increase in severe weather in the near future. Here at The Weather Channel there is no debate about what is happening to our climate system. We’ve been watching the planet for almost 40 years, and we’ve seen dramatic changes in our oceans, in our atmosphere, and in our biosphere. We know that it’s happening, we know that it’s us, we know that it’s serious, and most importantly, we know that we can do something about it.

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