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The preliminary reports from the Storm Prediction Center (SPC) says there have been 839 tornadoes in the U.S. through May 20, 2024. This number is is 143% above the historical average of 549.

Spring 2024 already has the second-most reported tornadoes to date on record, only behind 2011, which had more than one thousand by this date. Records go back to 1950.

More tornadoes are expected to break out today. In fact, the SPC says over 60 million people in a swath of the country stretching from Texas to the Great Lakes are at risk of an outbreak of severe thunderstorms, with the potential for strong tornadoes in addition to straight-line winds, large hail and flash flooding, is probable.

The forecast includes a level 4 out of 5 risk area that covers over a million people in Iowa, Illinois and northeastern Missouri.

The strongest tornado of the year was rated an EF4 and touched down in Barnsdall, Oklahoma, on May 6 with ​peak estimated winds of 175 mph.

The National Weather Service in Omaha issued 48 tornado warnings on April 26, which was the most the office has ever issued in a single day.

Climate warming creates conditions more favorable to severe storms

As we continue to see a warmer planet, severe storms of all kinds are likely to bring more extreme rain events. The reason? Warmer air holds more moisture, which effectively increases a storm’s capacity to carry precipitation.

Because warm air can hold more moisture, that also means there is more water vapor in the sky that can condense into liquid, forming clouds. The heat energy released into the atmosphere by this condensation is what feeds thunderstorms. In short, more condensation, brings the potential for stronger storms.

Tornado touches down in Linneus, MO bringing major damage to this church.

While climate change does make the conditions more favorable for the formation of severe storms, the occurrence of these storms also depends on a myriad of other factors. Variations in atmospheric conditions, ocean temperatures, wind patterns, and even geographical features can influence the formation and intensity of storms.

Therefore, attributing a single storm or a change in storm patterns directly to climate change can be complex. Nevertheless, scientists agree that as global temperatures continue to rise, we can expect storms to become more intense and possibly more frequent, heightening the need for effective climate change adaptation strategies.

The CAC is committed to the climate conversation. We do this with events like the Climate Champions Awards Ceremony, Hurricane Season Forecast Day and the upcoming Annual Climate Conference in November, that will focus on human health. We also give climate presentations, focused on adaptation strategies, to thousands of people throughout the year. You can support us in helping our conversation going by making a donation or becoming a member.

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