Just in time for the movie Into the Storm, a new study out of Florida State University says that climate change may affect the strength of tornadoes today and in the future.

“We may be less threatened by tornadoes on a day-to-day basis, but when they do come, they come like there’s no tomorrow,” said study author and geography Professor James Elsner in a news release.

What Elsner and his co-authors Svetoslava Elsner and Thomas Jagger found was interesting. They studied tornadoes of EF-1 and stronger in geographic clusters and then studied the density within these clusters. Here’s what they found. Over a 60-year period (1954-2013), there was a steady decrease in the number of days with at least one tornado. But, there was an increase in the number of days with many tornadoes.

According to the study, “The bottom line is that the risk of big tornado days featuring densely concentrated tornado outbreaks is on the rise.”

“As the climate continues to warm, it is important to understand weather tornado devastation might get collectively worse,” the study said.

According to Elsner, many researchers have scuffed at the impact of climate change on tornadoes because there was no solid pattern in the number of tornadoes per year. Take 1971 for example. A tornado was reported on 187 days that year. In 2013, there were just 79 days. While the number of tornado days plummeted, the severity of tornado outbreaks in recent years compared to the past has jumped.

But, media coverage has also multiplied a hundredfold since 1971. Every tornado outbreak you see thousands of pictures on Twitter and hundreds of videos on YouTube. Hell, you even see videos from drones surveying the damage after tornadoes.

Elsner’s right about one thing though. “I think it’s important for forecasters and the public to know this,” said Elsner. “It’s a matter of making sure the public is aware that if there is a higher risk of a storm, there may actually be multiple storms in a day.”

That’s one of the biggest issues in recent years. I remember the tornado outbreak in Alabama back in 2011. A straight line wind event knocked out power and warning systems in many areas before several powerful tornadoes impacted the state later in the day.

Keep a close eye on your local weather anytime there’s the potential for tornadoes. And, make sure the entire storm system has passed by before dropping your guard.

There is some good news. Tornadoes outbreaks remain confined to the geographic areas most prone to them according to Elsner. This ‘tornado alley’ stretches from the midwest to the southeast. Still, you will see your occasional tornado in an unexpected area such as the one that recently hit the Boston area.


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