Climate change boosting extreme weather like tornadoes, says U. expert

Dec 13, 2021, 7:17 PM
A car sits in the debris caused by a tornado in Bowling Green, Ky., Saturday, Dec. 11, 2021. A mons...
A car sits in the debris caused by a tornado in Bowling Green, Ky., Saturday, Dec. 11, 2021. A monstrous tornado killed dozens of people in Kentucky and the toll was climbing Saturday after severe weather ripped through at least five states, leaving widespread devastation. (AP Photo/Michael Clubb)
(AP Photo/Michael Clubb)

SALT LAKE CITY — At least 74 people are dead and 109 are unaccounted for after a rare December outbreak of tornadoes savaged eight states over the weekend. Dr. William Anderegg, associate professor at the School Of Biological Sciences at the University of Utah, joins KSL NewsRadio’s Dave & Debbie to talk about climate change and tornadoes.

There were at least 50 reports of tornadoes during the outbreak from late Friday into Saturday in Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, Ohio and Tennessee, according to the Storm Prediction Center, CNN reports. The month of December averages 30 tornadoes.

In Kentucky alone, 64 people were killed, making the tragedy the deadliest 24-hour period in December for tornadoes in the United States, based on records first kept in 1950, CNN reported. One storm cell tracked on radar for about four hours in four states and for more than 250 miles.

More than 100 tornado warnings — the most ever in December — were send out Friday before midnight, CNN reports.

Is climate change to blame for tornado tragedy?

Climate change supercharges extreme weather, Anderegg said.

“The picture’s incredibly clear for things like heat waves, drought and wildfires. Tornadoes are a lot harder. We don’t have as good of long-term data on tornadoes,” he said.

What scientists do know is that climate change ushers in warmer weather, which is a driving force behind tornadoes. Studies show the United States is likely to see more thunderstorm conditions, Anderegg said, which also drive tornadoes.

“We’re really putting the atmosphere and the weather on steroids with climate change. And that’s going to lead to these more really damaging storms.”

Why December?

Anderegg said tornadoes spouting in December are rare because tornadoes require warm air to drive different air speeds at different altitudes. But he pointed out that December 2021 across much of the US has been warmer than average.

“That might be one of the factors why we saw this massive super cluster of tornadoes,” he said.

Anderegg said more energy in the atmosphere from climate change is likely to bring more of these extreme wind and weather events.

Dave & Dujanovic can be heard weekdays from 9 a.m. to noon. on KSL NewsRadio. Users can find the show on the KSL NewsRadio website and app, as well as Apple Podcasts and Google Play.  

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Climate change boosting extreme weather like tornadoes, says U. expert