Weekend Storms in the U.S. Highlight Growing Tornado Risks

greg johnson oncifj uieq unsplash

In 2023, the U.S. witnessed a record number of billion-dollar severe storm incidents, nearly 50% more than the previous record year. (Photo by Greg Johnson on Unsplash)

by | Apr 29, 2024

This article is included in these additional categories:


In a harrowing weekend across the U.S., multiple states were ravaged by severe weather, resulting in significant devastation. A series of powerful tornadoes struck beginning Friday night, notably impacting Nebraska and Iowa initially, and subsequently Oklahoma on Saturday evening, where the destruction was profound. In Oklahoma, officials confirmed the deaths of at least four individuals, including a four-month-old child, highlighting the tragic human toll of these events. The damage was particularly severe in Holdenville, 60 miles southeast of Oklahoma City, where Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt described the impact as nearly total. Further southwest, in Sulphur, a tornado claimed another life and caused injuries to at least 30 people.

This recent spate of extreme weather comes amid ever-growing concerns over the link between climate change and the frequency and intensity of severe storms. According to research from Climate Central, severe storms have been responsible for half of the U.S. billion-dollar weather disasters since 1980. These events are becoming more common and manifesting in regions and seasons historically less accustomed to such severe conditions.

Understanding the Impact of Climate Change on Tornado Activity

The relationship between climate change and severe weather involves complex dynamics, including higher occurrences of the conditions needed for thunderstorms and tornadoes, such as increased convective available potential energy (CAPE) and wind shear. Notably, nighttime tornadoes and large hail represent some of the most dangerous aspects of severe storms, with nighttime tornadoes being particularly deadly, having caused more than 6,700 fatalities in the U.S. since 1880.

Research further indicates an eastward shift of “Tornado Alley” and a rise in tornado activity during the fall, particularly in the Southeast. These shifts are accompanied by increased frequencies of tornado outbreaks, suggesting a potential linkage to climate change. In 2023, the U.S. witnessed a record number of billion-dollar severe storm incidents, nearly 50% more than the previous record year, underscoring the escalating threat from these natural disasters.

A recent study from the Department of Atmospheric Sciences, University of Illinois, Urbana, IL suggests that future tornado intensity might increase due to anthropogenic climate changes. The team’s research employed a novel multi-scale modeling approach to demonstrate that cool-season tornado events might experience a more substantial increase in intensity compared to warm-season events, pointing to a significant alteration in seasonal tornado risks due to climate change.

These findings raise important considerations for disaster preparedness and response. An increase in powerful nighttime tornadoes necessitates improved warning systems to safeguard communities, particularly those less aware or prepared outside the traditional tornado season. Alongside this, the growing vulnerability of areas east of the Mississippi River to large hail and severe storms calls for enhanced infrastructure resilience and insurance strategies to mitigate economic impacts.

Future Predictions and Preparations

As climate models refine our understanding of how global warming affects severe weather, it is clear that policy and practical responses must evolve. Strengthening building codes, enhancing early warning systems, and implementing more effective community planning and education programs will be crucial in mitigating the impact of these more frequent and intense weather events.

The blend of historical data analysis and predictive modeling provides an essential tool for policymakers and emergency management professionals. By understanding these patterns and projections, they can better prepare for the evolving nature of severe weather in a changing climate, potentially saving lives and reducing economic losses.

Additional articles you will be interested in.

Stay Informed

Get E+E Leader Articles delivered via Newsletter right to your inbox!

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.
Share This