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The increasing efficiency of tornado days in the United States


The authors analyze the historical record of tornado reports in the United States and find evidence for changes in tornado climatology possibly related to global warming. They do this by examining the annual number of days with many tornadoes and the ratio of these days to days with at least one tornado and by examining the annual proportion of tornadoes occurring on days with many tornadoes. Additional evidence of a changing tornado climate is presented by considering tornadoes in geographic clusters and by analyzing the density of tornadoes within the clusters. There is a consistent decrease in the number of days with at least one tornado at the same time as an increase in the number of days with many tornadoes. These changes are interpreted as an increasing proportion of tornadoes occurring on days with many tornadoes. Coincident with these temporal changes are increases in tornado density as defined by the number of tornadoes per area. Trends are insensitive to the begin year of the analysis. The bottom line is that the risk of big tornado days featuring densely concentrated tornado outbreaks is on the rise. The results are broadly consistent with numerical modeling studies that project increases in convective energy within the tornado environment.

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The Department of Geography at Florida State University and Climatek provided partial financial support for this research.

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Correspondence to James B. Elsner.

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Elsner, J.B., Elsner, S.C. & Jagger, T.H. The increasing efficiency of tornado days in the United States. Clim Dyn 45, 651–659 (2015).

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  • Tornado
  • Trends
  • Cluster
  • Outbreak
  • Efficiency