Friday, August 7, 2020

Tornadoes: Where the Global Warming Narrative Doesn't Fit

A recent NPR story attempted to tie tornadoes to global warming -- and went off the rails a bit doing so.

WICHITA, Kansas — Tornadoes aren’t forming at the same pace as usual this year, creating one of Kansas’ quietest storm seasons in recent memory.
In fact, there hasn’t been a single documented tornado in any of the 26 counties served by the National Weather Service’s Wichita office.
Meteorologists warn that the past isn’t a good measure of the future — and considering weather experts still aren’t entirely sure how tornadoes form in the first place, understanding why one year is more active than another is a difficult task.
The above isn't exactly correct. We understand very well the situations in which tornadoes are likely to form. The Wichita area and south central Kansas have had zero tornadoes (a record) so far this year because we have had higher than normal atmospheric pressures and, when the pressures were low, we had upper atmospheric winds from the northwest to southeast which is not conducive to tornado formation.

For the purposes of tornado forecasting, we understand very well the conditions in which tornadoes are likely to form. My concern with implying otherwise is that it may cause people to doubt whether they should prepare when a tornado watch is issued.

It is true tornado warnings are not as accurate as we would like. While that is partly due to inadequate understanding of tornado formation, it is also due to the fact that we don't have as much radar coverage across the United States as needed.

As to (later in the article), "not having a very good answer" with regard to tornadoes and climate change, the data is very clear. Strong tornadoes have become less frequent as global temperatures have warmed. The trend across the United States is unmistakable.
Of course, lessening major tornadoes does not fit in with the "gloom and doom" global warming narrative. Regardless, let's hope the trend of fewer major tornadoes continues. 

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