Trend in tornado frequency in the U.S. Over the past few decades tornadoes have been shifting — decreasing in Oklahoma, Texas, and Kansas but spinning up more in states along the Mississippi River and farther east. Data: Victor Gensini / Northern Illinois University. Graphic: Associated Press

By Seth Borenstein
17 October 2018

WASHINGTON (AP) – Over the past few decades tornadoes have been shifting — decreasing in Oklahoma, Texas, and Kansas but spinning up more in states along the Mississippi River and farther east, a new study shows. Scientists aren’t quite certain why.

Tornado activity is increasing most in Mississippi, Arkansas, Tennessee, Louisiana, Alabama, Kentucky, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin, Iowa, and parts of Ohio and Michigan, according to a study in Wednesday’s journal Climate and Atmospheric Science. There has been a slight decrease in the Great Plains, with the biggest drop in central and eastern Texas. Even with the decline, Texas still gets the most tornadoes of any state.

The shift could be deadly because the area with increasing tornado activity is bigger and home to more people, said study lead author Victor Gensini, a professor of atmospheric sciences at Northern Illinois University. Also more people live in vulnerable mobile homes and tornadoes are more likely to happen at night in those places, he said. […]

Even though Texas, Kansas, and Oklahoma get many more tornadoes, the four deadliest states for tornadoes are Alabama, Missouri, Tennessee, and Arkansas, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

“More folks are generally at risk because of that eastward shift,” Gensini said. […]

Why is this happening?

“We don’t know,” Gensini said. “This is super consistent with climate change.”

As the Great Plains dry out, there’s less moisture to have the type of storms that spawn tornadoes, Gensini said. Tornadoes form along the “dry line” where there are more thunderstorms because there’s dry air to the west and moist air from the Gulf of Mexico to the east.

That dry line is moving east.

“This is what you would expect in a climate change scenario, we just have no way of confirming it at the moment,” Gensini said. [more]

Tornadoes are spinning up farther east in US, study finds


ABSTRACT: Severe thunderstorms accompanied by tornadoes, hail, and damaging winds cause an average of 5.4 billion dollars of damage each year across the United States, and 10 billion-dollar events are no longer uncommon. This overall economic and casualty risk—with over 600 severe thunderstorm related deaths in 2011—has prompted public and scientific inquiries about the impact of climate change on tornadoes. We show that national annual frequencies of tornado reports have remained relatively constant, but significant spatially-varying temporal trends in tornado frequency have occurred since 1979. Negative tendencies of tornado occurrence have been noted in portions of the central and southern Great Plains, while robust positive trends have been documented in portions of the Midwest and Southeast United States. In addition, the significant tornado parameter is used as an environmental covariate to increase confidence in the tornado report results.

Spatial trends in United States tornado frequency

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