This historic night of extreme weather is being referred to by meteorologists and climate scientists as historic. Now, questions about whether climate change is increasing tornadoes are emerging.
However, unlike other extreme weather events like droughts, floods, and hurricanes, scientific research on the connection between climate crisis and tornadoes is not as robust. This makes it particularly difficult.
Scientists claim that it is difficult to connect tornadoes to long-term human-caused climate change because of the short-term nature of their effects.
Victor Gensini, Northern Illinois University professor and one the top tornado experts, said that last evening’s outbreak was one the most remarkable tornado events in US History. Although climate change may have played an important role in its violent behavior it is still unclear what.
Gensini explained to CNN that when you look at a lot these events together and start to see them in aggregate, it becomes quite clear that there has been a shift — a shift if you will — in where the most tornado frequency is occurring. These events are becoming stronger, more frequent, and more variable.
“It’s also very common when you have La Niña in place to see this eastward shift in highest tornado frequency,” Gensini said. “But if I look back at the past 40+ years, the research… has shown Nashville, Tennessee, or Mayfield Kentucky that got hit last night — their tornado frequency, their risk of getting hit by a tornado have increased over the past 40+ years.”
Tornadoes form under specific atmospheric conditions. They are primarily fueled in warm, moist air by strong winds that shift in the direction of altitude. Scientists warn that climate change is being exacerbated by the increase in greenhouse gas emissions. They also warned that the jet stream, which are fast-moving air currents that affect weather patterns and can trigger tornadoes, could be acting strangely.
Jennifer Marlon, a Yale School of Environment climate scientist, said that it was too early to know what caused last night’s outbreak. However, there are “some really significant signatures that suggest this very well may have been linked to climate change” and that scientists are “observing changes within the outbreaks, and not just the severity of individual tornadoes or outbreaks but also quiet periods.”
For example, if any tornadoes from last night are rated EF-5 with winds of 260 mph and greater, it would end a streak lasting 3,126 days, which is the longest without an EF-5 since 1950, when records began. Moore, Oklahoma’s tornado on May 20, 2013 was the last EF-5 tornado.
Marlon points out important factors that increase disaster risks in these times, including worsening climate disasters, increased exposure due to growing population, and more vulnerable assets.
This is already happening in Mayfield, Kentucky. Officials say that the city’s main fire department and some of its police resources have been rendered inoperable by last night’s tornado system. Authorities are currently looking for alternate ways to handle emergency calls.
She stated that “all these things are contributing to increase disaster risk, which has many more consequences, including fatalities, as well as enormous economic damages.”
As the climate crisis worsens, more people will be at risk of the most severe effects of extreme weather events. Experts recommend that cities not delay the implementation of adaptation plans and instead treat them like an additional emergency response system.
Gensini stated that one thing is certain: these tornado disasters will continue getting worse as humans alter the landscape and create larger, sprawling cities.
He said that there are more resources and more targets for severe storms to hit. “So even if climate change is removed from the equation, which is very likely will make the problem worse,” he said.
This report was contributed by Brandon Miller, CNN Meteorologist.