Home Weather Forecast Tornadoes, floods, heat — and climate change?

Tornadoes, floods, heat — and climate change?

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Drastic footage shows the deadly front that drove a line of severe storms and tornadoes through much of the South rolled east on Sunday.
USA Today

Tornadoes in the South, floods and snow in the Midwest, crazy heat in Alaska. What’s going on with the extreme weather this year?

Most of it is par for the course, experts say, since we live in the nation with the world’s wildest weather extremes: No other country on Earth has the USA’s ferocious weather stew of hurricanes, tornadoes, droughts, floods, wildfires, blizzards, heat waves and cold snaps.

“You’d be hard-pressed to find another patch of land on Earth the size of the USA that boasts such a variety of such intensely extreme weather inside its borders,” said meteorologist and author Robert Henson of Boulder, Colo.

In April, severe weather outbreaks such as the one that hit the South on Sunday are the norm rather than the exception. So far this April, 48 tornadoes have hit the U.S., according to preliminary data from the Storm Prediction Center. This is still well below normal for mid-April. (On average, 115 tornadoes have hit by this time of April, said Patrick Marsh, the SPC warning coordination meteorologist.)

The death and destruction from the tornadoes that have hit this year might appear shocking in part because of the freakishly quiet year of 2018: Both the number of Americans killed by tornadoes (10) and the number of violent tornadoes in the U.S. (0) set record lows.

More statistics: While the eight deaths from severe storms was certainly a tragedy on Sunday, the number pales in comparison to the horrific tornado outbreak of Palm Sunday 1965 when 271 people were killed by 47 tornadoes. 

People work to cover the holes in a roof after severe weather damaged homes on Plymouth Springmill Road just south of the intersection of Ohio Route 96 in Shelby, Ohio, on April 14, 2019. (Photo: Tom E. Puskar, AP)

Tornadoes, such as the ones that slammed Texas on Wednesday, are nearly a uniquely American phenomenon. Each year, “the U.S. experiences about 80% to 90% of all of the tornadoes that occur across the world,” says Randy Cerveny, a professor of geography at Arizona State University.

While climate change does have a documented impact on many extreme weather events, it has no clear connection to severe thunderstorms nor the tornadoes they produce. In fact, a 2016 report from the National Academy of Sciences found that of all weather phenomena, severe storms have the least connection to human-caused climate change.

However, that’s not the case for other types of extreme weather: That report found the there were clear links between climate change and heat waves, droughts, heavy rain and snowstorms. 

Thus, the floods that swamped the central U.S. following the first “bomb cyclone” snow and rain storm in March had a climate-change connection, scientists said last month. The root causes of the floods – like wetter weather and rapid spring warm-ups – have also become more likely because of climate change, according to Yale University.

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