The Link Between Tornadoes and Climate Change Is Complicated

The Link Between Tornadoes and Climate Change Is Complicated

Tornadoes are one of nature’s most deadly phenomena, capable of causing immense damage and leaving a lasting impact on communities. Over the years, scientists have been studying the connection between tornadoes and climate change to understand if it’s a phenomenon that is getting more frequent or more intense. Despite the connection between climate change and extreme weather events, tornadoes’ link to climate change is less clear.

In this article, we’ll examine the relationship between tornadoes and climate change and explain why scientists are still unsure about the effect of climate change on tornado formation.

The Basics of Tornado Formation

Before we dive into the effect of climate change on tornado formation, it’s important to understand the basics of how tornadoes form. Tornadoes are essentially columns of violently rotating air. The bottom of the column sometimes touches the ground, while the top is often connected to the base of a thunderstorm.

Tornadoes vary in size, distance traveled, and intensity. The deadliest tornadoes, such as the one that recently hit Mississippi, can travel for up to 170 miles and last for about an hour. Strong tornadoes like that one can have wind speeds as high as 300 mph. However, weaker tornadoes, which make up most of the tornadoes that form, have wind speeds of 100 mph or less and may last only a few minutes.

Tornadoes require several ingredients to form. There needs to be warm, moist air close to the ground, with dryer, colder air higher up. A tornado also needs wind shear. This is the variation in wind speed and direction, and if this is strong enough, it enhances rotation in a thunderstorm and helps form the tornado. “Wind shear takes an ordinary storm and organizes it so that it can go on to produce perils like hail and tornadoes,” Walker Ashley, a meteorologist and professor at Northern Illinois University, explained.

The Relationship Between Tornadoes and Climate Change

Climate change has become a hot topic in recent years due to the catastrophic weather events caused by it. However, the relationship between tornadoes and climate change is still unclear. Scientists are unsure of how climate change influences individual tornadoes. Experts remain divided on the question of whether climate change is causing more tornadoes to form.

According to Ashley, studying the ingredients that come together to form tornadoes provides a clearer connection to climate change. “There’s a lot of steps in between those two,” he said. “The big fundamental question is, ‘is climate change contributing to the environments that support these, or sustain these, or make them more intense?’ The science really isn’t quite there yet.”

Some factors that contribute to storms can be studied with global climate models, like temperatures and water vapor in the atmosphere. “Moisture is a slam dunk. It’s going to increase because we have a warming environment and warming oceans,” Ashley said. Some research suggests that supercells in the U.S. have showed signs of change. Scientists at Northern Illinois University, including Ashley, compared years of those rotating thunderstorms. They also used smaller regional models and found that the number of supercells is likely to increase in frequency and intensity by the end of this century. The storms will be boosted by increased humidity and warmer temperatures.

However, John T. Allen, a meteorology professor at Central Michigan University, said that studying supercells is great, but it’s still not always clear if a tornado will form. As few as 20% of supercells create tornadoes, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. ” [Sometimes] the Storm Prediction Center might even need to issue a tornado watch, and nothing happens,” Allen told Earther.


In conclusion, while there is evidence to suggest that climate change is contributing to more frequent and intense extreme weather events, the link between tornadoes and climate change remains unclear. The formation of tornadoes is a complex process that requires several ingredients, and scientists are still studying the relationship between these ingredients and climate change.

While some studies suggest that the frequency and intensity of supercells may increase by the end of this century due to warmer temperatures and increased humidity, it is still not clear whether this will lead to more tornadoes forming.

Therefore, it is important for researchers to continue studying the connection between tornadoes and climate change to better understand the impact of climate change on extreme weather events. This knowledge can help us prepare for and mitigate the potential damage caused by tornadoes and other extreme weather events in the future.