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Does Climate Change Have a Real Impact on Tornadoes?

What are tornadoes, and how do they affect those in the midwest, across the United States, and the world? Is a tornado more likely to occur or be more severe the worse that climate change gets?
Green News
2023-05-26T00:00:00.000Z
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When choosing where to live, even within the United States – many may filter their preferences based on the type of natural disaster that occurs in that state: such as hurricanes, earthquakes, or tornadoes.

Tornadoes can cause catastrophic damage to homes in the midwest of the United States, but how much of tornadoes are caused or aggravated by climate change itself?

In this article, we’ll discuss how tornadoes happen, where they are most likely to occur, and how climate change impacts the frequency and severity of tornadoes.

What are tornadoes?

A tornado is a narrow, rapidly rotating tunnel of air that occurs when a thunderstorm extends to the ground. A tornado is like a strong, but invisible wind – but sometimes, tornadoes can be seen from far away due to collecting dust and debris. If tornadoes are to be seen, they will appear dark gray in color.

👉 Out of all the different atmospheric storms, tornadoes are known to be the most violent and terrifying of them all.

Tornadoes occur all over the world, including almost all seven continents – from Europe, Australia, Africa, Asia, and North or South America. However, when it comes to the U.S. – tornadoes usually occur in the Midwest or southern states, and are most common in Texas, Nebraska, and Kansas. However, states like Mississippi and Alabama are by no means tornado free: having experienced some of the worst tornadoes for the United States in 2022. On average, around 1,200 tornadoes hit the U.S. every year, but since tornado records are only dated 1950 and beyond – it’s fair to say that the annual tornado rate may be higher than we think.

👉 The region in which tornadoes are most likely to occur is known as “tornado alley” – but tornadoes are still likely to occur outside of this likely area, and can still be extreme and cause damage. For instance, tornadoes can occur in the southeastern part of the U.S. and even the central Plains depending on the time of year.

Tornado alley refers to the areas in the United States where tornadoes happen most frequently, but “tornado alley” is often distinguished in a multitude of ways: such as by how many tornadoes have occurred in that area each year, the strength of tornadoes, and the length of the tornadoes. However, tornado alley usually most commonly refers to the central part of the United States – or better known as the Midwest.

Did you know? Many people from the Midwest in the U.S. will refer to tornadoes as a, “twister”!
view of a tornado forming

Tornadoes usually happen during set seasons, depending on the region in the United States they occur. For instance, in the southern Plains (or Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas) – tornadoes are most likely to occur from May to early June. In areas such as states that reside along the Gulf Coast of Mexico, tornadoes are more likely to occur earlier in the spring – and with the upper Midwest seeing tornadoes in June or July. While most tornadoes happen in the late afternoon or into the early evening, tornadoes can still occur anywhere at any time. 

👉 Besides the United States, two areas of the world which are most prone to disastrous tornadoes include Argentina and Bangladesh.

Are tornadoes caused by climate change?

Climate change is most known for raising global surface temperatures, but is it also to blame for the increased frequency and severity of tornadoes?

While climate change has been known to aggravate other types of natural disasters, there isn’t as much science to prove that climate change is having a significant impact on tornadoes. However, that being said, one thing that climate change is doing is pushing cold or warm air elsewhere – which is what is causing abnormal weather conditions in other areas of the United States, such as last winter’s unusual snowstorm. Therefore, some evidence may imply that rising temperatures could be contributing to more tornadoes in the future – seeing as most tornadoes occur in late spring and summer. In addition to this, “tornado alley” may be pushed further east towards the southeastern states (already susceptible to hurricanes) due to climate change pushing air in new directions.

This is because the most dangerous tornadoes are formed when warm and moist air combine, creating a “wind shear” that can aid in tornado formation. Climate change is not only raising the temperature and moisture of the air outside, but is causing lakes to dry up – which leave behind toxic particles and debris. The combination of rising, moist temperatures with increased leftover debris laying on the ground isn’t a good equation for preventing more frequent and deleterious tornadoes. 

However, the good news is that while there’s been an increase in warm, moist air in the midst of climate change, there has been a decrease in wind shear – which is expected to continue on a downwards trajectory. This is an argument to be made that climate change could actually result in less tornadoes in the coming years.

weeds in the wind at sunset approaching

That being said, tornadoes are still spontaneous in nature – and the raise in global temperatures and air moisture isn’t something that should be ignored. Tornadoes are more likely to occur when there is a combination of wind and thunderstorms, and studies from Stanford and Purdue have shown that a drop in wind shear is more likely to decrease on clear days. Therefore, the concept of climate change aggravating tornadoes is still backed up by the other science that has been found.

How else do tornadoes affect society?

It’s probable to believe that tornadoes could be more frequent and deadly as climate change continues to get out of control. As a result, it’s important to understand the impact of tornadoes not just on climate change, but on how they affect society.

Tornadoes can cause some of the most destructive damage to houses, which puts a financial strain on both homeowners and insurance companies. Natural disasters like tornadoes can leave people homeless, and even impact other imperative facts of American society – such as paying your taxes on time. 

In addition to creating a financial burden for an already suffering insurance industry, tornadoes can have other significant long-term impacts. For instance, tornadoes can destroy college campuses and other school buildings and disrupt education. Natural disasters like tornadoes require massive resources and time in order to rebuild what tornadoes have destroyed – which can take away from other areas that would’ve received financial aid otherwise: such as for the homeless, food shelters, or non profit organizations seeking to fight against climate change

home destroyed by a tornado

Is there anything that can be done to prevent the impact of tornadoes?

Scientists are still seeking to learn more about tornadoes, so one of the best ways to prevent a tornado from destroying our susceptible communities is by investing in research to better learn how tornadoes are formed and further understand how climate change is impacting tornadoes. Another way to prevent the impact of tornadoes would be to ensure that buildings are up to code, and to ensure that all buildings have a shelter and sufficient ways to communicate with the outside world in the midst of a storm. States that are most vulnerable to tornadoes should rely on their local governments to carefully plan land-use, such as by avoiding construction in areas where tornadoes could “swoop” up nearby debris or materials, or areas subject to flooding. Precautions like these can help to minimise the impact of tornadoes. Overall, community preparedness and general education on safety if a tornado is to hit is imperative for states vulnerable to tornadoes.

However, if a tornado is already on its way – there is only one thing left to do, and that’s to send out a message for a tornado watch or a tornado warning.

A Tornado Watch is issued when meteorologists who study weather patterns across the U.S. predict that a tornado is likely to occur – especially in the midst of other severe weather, like thunderstorms. A tornado watch usually encompasses several areas or even multiple states, and when a tornado watch is issued – it’s recommended that those in areas subject to potential tornadoes keep posted to find out if an official tornado warning is issued. 

A Tornado Warning is issued when a tornado has already been spotted or indicated on radars used by meteorologists. A tornado warning is an official directive order to seek immediate shelter, and that the approaching tornado could cause catastrophic damage to your home or even harm you or your loved ones. Similar to a tornado watch, a tornado warning can occur across multiple states – but a tornado warning is ultimately more severe and imminent than a tornado watch.

Clearly, tornadoes require utmost attention and preparedness amongst those who reside in tornado-prone areas – but is there anything people can do to prevent tornadoes from being as bad as they are in the first place?

tornado forming high above in the air

Could fighting against climate change ultimately stop tornadoes?

It’s hard to determine if emission reductions on a global (or even national) scale would have an impact on the severity and frequency of tornadoes, but seeing as science has inferred that it isn’t illogical to link the shift in tornado alley to climate change – it wouldn’t be out of the question to presume that a world where climate change isn’t our most pivotal problem could lead to less extreme weather: including tornadoes. 

However, there is no proof yet that fighting against climate change could help to stop tornadoes – as scientists are still learning about tornadoes every day.

👉 Ultimately, communities can take several steps to prepare themselves for tornadoes, but science is not strong enough yet to determine if fighting against climate change itself can prevent worse tornadoes.  

Natural disasters, tornadoes especially, are scary – but so is climate change, and there’s no harm in fighting two battles at the same time to see if we can kill two birds with one stone.

What about Greenly? 

If reading this article about tornadoes has made you interested in reducing your carbon emissions to further fight against climate change – Greenly can help you!

Tornadoes are just one of the many surprising things to occur in the midst of climate change, but don’t worry – Greenly is here to help. Book a demo with one of our specialists to learn more. 

Greenly can help you make an environmental change for the better, starting with a carbon footprint assessment to know how much carbon emissions your company produces.

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