Researchers identify new trends in tornadoes as climate change impacts weather patterns

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RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — More than 200 tornadoes have already occurred in the U.S. in 2019 — and of course, 10 touched down here in central North Carolina on Good Friday.

As the changing climate impacts large-scale weather patterns, researchers have identified some noticeable trends in tornado activity.

There has been a detectable increase in tornado risk over the past few decades, especially east of the Mississippi River. To be clear, tornadoes are not going away in Tornado Alley, but the overall trend is consistent with climate change projections showing severe storm environments becoming more common in the eastern U.S.

Another trend: the number of tornadoes in large tornado outbreaks is on the rise. There are now more tornadoes in the largest outbreaks compared to the 1950s — and another study showed that the number of days with 30 or more tornadoes has also been increasing. We might see fewer days where only one or two tornadoes occur, but that’s balanced out by the intensity of the big events.

Finally, we’re seeing a shift in the time of year that tornadoes occur. Tornado season is starting about a week earlier in Tornado Alley, and summer tornadoes are declining nationwide. But in the colder months between November and February, tornado frequency has increased, especially in the Southeast. More troubling, nighttime tornadoes, which are twice as likely to cause fatalities, are more common during these colder months of the year, something we especially have to be concerned about in North Carolina.

While the long-term trends are still subject to further research, we know this much for certain: we live in a region that gets severe weather on a regular basis, so we need to always be ready for it.

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