More tornadoes in the most extreme U.S. tornado outbreaks

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Science  16 Dec 2016:
Vol. 354, Issue 6318, pp. 1419-1423
DOI: 10.1126/science.aah7393

Blowing harder and more often

The frequency of tornado outbreaks (clusters of tornadoes) and the number of extremely powerful tornado events have been increasing over nearly the past half-century in the United States. Tippett et al. found that tornado outbreaks have become more common since the 1970s. This increase seems to have been driven by consistent changes in the meteorological environment that make tornadoes more likely to form. However, the changes are not necessarily those that one would expect from climate change, which makes it difficult to predict whether this trend will continue.

Science, this issue p. 1419


Tornadoes and severe thunderstorms kill people and damage property every year. Estimated U.S. insured losses due to severe thunderstorms in the first half of 2016 were $8.5 billion (US). The largest U.S. effects of tornadoes result from tornado outbreaks, which are sequences of tornadoes that occur in close succession. Here, using extreme value analysis, we find that the frequency of U.S. outbreaks with many tornadoes is increasing and that it is increasing faster for more extreme outbreaks. We model this behavior by extreme value distributions with parameters that are linear functions of time or of some indicators of multidecadal climatic variability. Extreme meteorological environments associated with severe thunderstorms show consistent upward trends, but the trends do not resemble those currently expected to result from global warming.

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