Is Global Warming Causing More Tornadoes? Not So Fast

By Chris Mooney | May 26, 2011 10:57 am

My latest DeSmogBlog post is based on some reporting–and some storm-watching–that I got to do while here in Norman, Oklahoma. It starts like this:

Recently, I witnessed the destructive power of a tornado nearly firsthand. In Norman, Oklahoma on the evening of May 24, I watched the sky darken and unleash a battery of nickel sized hail. Then a funnel cloud twisted down from the clouds, even as the cloud line itself touched earth in the distance, where a tornado had landed. Later, grass and leaves came flying through the air and stuck to our window, debris propelled from miles away.

It was terrifying—and more than that, awe inspiring. But what happened in Oklahoma that day, while very destructive and deadly, was nothing near the death toll in Joplin, Missouri two days earlier, or in Alabama in April, a month that set a new record for tornado outbreaks. So much tornado destruction this year, and so many deaths, has inevitably led some to ask the question—could global warming be implicated here?

Fortunately, being in Norman, I was also in the place to ask one of our country’s top experts this question—Harold Brooks, a tornado specialist at the National Severe Storms Laboratory. Along with other mainstream scientists, Brooks agrees that “it’s abundantly clear that the surface temperature has increased, and will continue to increase, and the overwhelming evidence is that it’s due to human activities.” Brooks also thinks global warming is likely to impact many weather phenomena–increasing the risk of heat waves, for instance, and stronger precipitation events.

“But it doesn’t necessarily mean that every bad weather event is going to get worse,” Brooks continues, and when it comes to tornadoes, “I get really worried when people oversell the case.” After all, if we’re wrong and we go through a series of quiet tornado years in the coming years, it will be just another weapon with which to attack those who want climate action.

You can read the rest of the piece–where Brooks elaborates on why he doubts tornadoes are increasing in number–here.


Comments (3)

  1. 17 Oct 2006
    Tornado activity and Global Warming

    31 Aug 2007
    Global Warming Will Bring Violent Storms And Tornadoes, NASA Predicts

    06 Apr 2011
    Global Warming Taking The Wind Out Of Tornadoes

    10 Apr 2011
    Time Magazine Blames Weekend Tornadoes On Global Warming

    28 Apr 2011
    NOAA Scientist Rejects Global Warming Link to Tornadoes

    Saepe errans, numquam dubitans. Uncle Al calls this “weapons-grade imbecility.” The best thing about telling the truth is that you have so much less to remember.

  2. Nullius in Verba

    I’m impressed! Very impressed!

    No reflexive link to global warming, no obvious fallacies, a sensible balanced perspective, and some science! Evidence/explanation for conclusions is presented, instead of relying on authority. I like it.

  3. Gaythia

    I agree with Nullius. Good post. Especially after reading the front page headline this morning in my local right wing leaning and generally climate change denying newspaper (Loveland Reporter-Herald): “What’s with the extreme weather? Scientists say it’s global warming.”. The McClatchy-Tribune piece that followed was a bit more balanced than that, but still not good enough to avoid serving as bait.


Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!

About Chris Mooney

Chris is a science and political journalist and commentator and the author of three books, including the New York Times bestselling The Republican War on Science--dubbed "a landmark in contemporary political reporting" by and a "well-researched, closely argued and amply referenced indictment of the right wing's assault on science and scientists" by Scientific American--Storm World, and Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future, co-authored by Sheril Kirshenbaum. They also write "The Intersection" blog together for Discover blogs. For a longer bio and contact information, see here.


See More

Collapse bottom bar