“I’m a tornado climatologist, and it is not unusual for people to ask me after a spate of storms like the ones that ripped through the center of the country on Friday whether climate change has anything to do with it. The answer is: It’s complicated.
We have started to detect changes in collective tornado activity, including more powerful storms, and are beginning to understand how these changes might be related to global warming. But much more work needs to be done to gain a fuller understanding of how the changing climate is influencing these deadly storms.
Let’s start with what we know. A tornado is a rapidly rotating column of air inside a thunderstorm. A thunderstorm that lasts more than 20 minutes and is energized by continuously rising air is called a supercell. The rising air is fueled by warm, moist conditions and changes in wind speed or direction associated with the approach of a frontal system where warm and cool air collide. The warm, moist air and that wind shear can generate a series of supercells, some of which produce tornadoes.”