Tornado damage in Mayfield, Kentucky
The series of tornadoes that ripped through the Midwest and the Southeast United States this weekend adds to another stretch of deadly and potentially unprecedented weather disasters this year, exacerbating the already growing economic toll brought by climate disasters across the country.
And in the wake of this deadly night of extreme weather, which meteorologists and climate scientists say is historic, questions of whether climate change is intensifying tornadoes are beginning to emerge.
In Kentucky, the series of tornadoes uprooted trees, tore down homes and infrastructure, and killed at least 70 people. Gov. Andy Beshear said in a news conference that the tornado event reached a “level of devastation unlike anything I have ever seen,” he said.
But unlike other extreme weather events such as drought, floods and hurricanes, scientific research about the connection between the climate crisis and tornadoes has not been as robust, making the link especially challenging.
Victor Gensini, a professor at Northern Illinois University and one of the top tornado experts, said last night’s outbreak is one of the most remarkable tornado events in US history — and while climate change may have played a part in its violent behavior, it’s not yet clear what that role was.
“When you start putting a lot of these events together, and you start looking at them in the aggregate sense, the statistics are pretty clear that not only has there sort of been a change — a shift, if you will — of where the greatest tornado frequency is happening,” Gensini told CNN. “But these events are becoming perhaps stronger, more frequent and also more variable.”
The easy answer is “time will tell”. The problem with that is the answer is measured in the accumulation of more deadly incidents, more deaths, more destruction. I’d rather our nation reacted too early than sitting around making every pundit happy.