For 22 years Martin Lisius has been chasing these tempests across the Midwest. He believes that climate change is making tornados arrive earlier.
“Over the past several years, I've seen an earlier arrival of spring, particularly in North Texas and Oklahoma," Lisius said. "March used to be what we considered the start of tornado season here, but February is looking more like March did.”
Lisius believes global warming is responsible for warmer waters in the Gulf of Mexico, the fuel that drives severe weather in Tornado Alley each spring.
Weather experts agree that yesterday’s twister was a weird one. “It is rare in February, at least for this far north and west,” said David Andra, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Norman, Okla. The last fatal February tornado in the state occurred in 1975, with three deaths, he said – adding that freaky weather contributed to the deadly storm.
“The conditions we had yesterday were more like conditions you might find in April,” Mr. Andra explained. “We had a very warm and moist air mass in place, along with strong vertical wind shear.”
Translated into English: “It was almost 80 degrees here yesterday. I guess it was just ripe for the picking,” said one local resident.
Besides coming early, the terrible storm that descended on Oklahoma yesterday was a monster – almost half a mile wide.
Such devastation is tragically consistent with what researchers have been predicting for our warming world. NASA researchers have found that climate change will produce larger and more violent storms, including tornados. These tempests already pack a punch right out of the Old Testament – with some wind speeds topping 300 miles per hour.
Last year was the second most active tornado season in the US since record keeping began in 1950. Only 2004 had more twisters.
While it is impossible to pin any one weather event on climate change, the early and deadly start to the 2009 tornado season is worth taking note of.It could well be that if you want to see climate change in action, all you need to do is look out the window.