EXPLAINER: Was tornado outbreak related to climate change?
Climate Signals summary: A major mid-December tornado outbreak struck the American Heartland as evidence mounts that human-caused climate change is increasing the risk of tornado outbreaks occurring.
The calendar said December but the warm moist air screamed of springtime. Add an eastbound storm front guided by a La Nina weather pattern into that mismatch and it spawned tornadoes that killed dozens over five U.S. states.
Warm weather was a crucial ingredient in this tornado outbreak, but whether climate change is a factor is not quite as clear, meteorologists say.
Scientists say figuring out how climate change is affecting the frequency of tornadoes is complicated and their understanding is still evolving. But they do say the atmospheric conditions that give rise to such outbreaks are intensifying in the winter as the planet warms. And tornado alley is shifting farther east away from the Kansas-Oklahoma area and into states where Friday’s killers hit.
Here’s a look at what’s known about Friday’s tornado outbreak and the role of climate change in such weather events.
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