A series of 10-12 tornadoes plowed through Dallas yesterday, and thankfully, no lives have been lost in the destruction. Some 17 are confirmed injured, but for a phenomenon of that scale, ripping through a metropolitan area with a population of 6.3 million, it's borderline miraculous. After all, just watch these clips to get a sense of the sheer power of these storms:
And just last month, tornadoes swept through Indiana, Kentucky, and three other states, killing 39 people and leveling hundreds of homes and buildings. And 2011 saw a record-breaking tornado season, with at least 539 confirmed casualties and unusual destruction in April and May alone.
As for the million dollar question—whether climate change is making tornados more dangerous—I'll turn that one over to Dr. Kevin Trenberth, senior scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research Global. In a new paper excerpted at Climate Progress he explains that "All weather events are affected by climate change because the environment in which they occur is warmer and moister than it used to be," then moves on to discuss tornadoes in particular:
warming does not contribute directly to tornadoes themselves, but it does contribute to the vigor of the thunderstorms that host them through the increased warmth and moisture content (moist static energy) of the low level air flow. The increase in buoyancy of the air flowing through the Gulf of Mexico helps fuel the storms.In other words, the fear-inspiring whirlwinds themselves may not be any stronger or powerful than they were before—but the storms that produce them will quite likely be.