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Warmer oceans = More tornadoes


Tornado.: NOAA/WikimediaTornado. NOAA/Wikimedia
The stats on tornadoes so far this year are horrifying. A record-breaking 482 people (and ABC News reports 1,500 are unaccounted for in Joplin, Missouri) have been confirmed killed as of 24 May.

We know that spring’s a bad season for tornadoes. We know that La Niña years fuel stormy Aprils. But 2011 is redefining even those parameters.

Preliminary map of April 2011 tornado tracks.: National Weather ServicePreliminary map of April 2011 tornado tracks. National Weather Service
Here’s what NOAA has to say about last month alone:

  • April 2011 set anew record with a total of 875 tornadoes.
  • The previous April record was set in 1974 with 267 tornadoes.
  • The average number of tornadoes for the month of April during the past decade was 161.
  • The previous record number of tornadoes duringany month was 542 tornadoes set in May 2003.
  • NWS [National Weather Service] records indicate 321 people were killed during the April 25-28 tornado outbreak.
  • NWS records indicate 361 people were killed during the entire month of April 2011.

April 14, 2011 tornado over Tushka, Oklahoma.: Credit: Gabe Garfield and Marc Austin, NOAA, via Wikimedia Commons.April 14, 2011 tornado over Tushka, Oklahoma. Gabe Garfield and Marc Austin/NOAA
Leading up to April’s extreme tornadoes were some extreme temperatures, noted Stu Ostro, Senior Meteorologist at the Weather Channel:

The temperature in Laredo reached 111 degrees the day prior to the peak [April] outbreak, the hottest on record at that location for so early in the season. Precipitation extremes have been extreme even by extreme precipitation standards, with April rainfall upwards of 20″ in Arkansas and record levels on some rivers in the central US, juxtaposed with an exceptionally large amount of Texas being classified in extreme or exceptional drought.

May 22 storm moments before the Joplin tornado formed. : NOAAMay 22 storm moments before the Joplin tornado formed. NOAA
Now May is racing to catch up to and maybe even pass April. Here’s what NOAA finds so far:

  • The National Weather Service’s preliminary estimate is more than 100 tornadoes have occurred during the month of May 2011.
  • The record number of tornadoes during the month of May was 542 tornadoes set in May 2003.
  • The average number of tornadoes for the month of May during the past decade is 298.
  • May is historically the most active month for tornadoes.

As I write, reports are rolling in about a new round of tornadoes—and deaths—in Oklahoma.

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