Recent Tornadoes bring climate change to the forefront

Dec 17, 2021

George Banziger

While our immediate attention should be directed at relief efforts for the thousands of people who have lost loved ones, are injured, homeless, and without jobs and their personal possessions, we should still reflect upon the significance of these powerful storms that devastated parts of Arkansas, Illinois, and Kentucky in this month of December.

These storms bring to vivid relief the reality that the effects of climate change are already upon us. On the day before these tornados, as they formed in the Great Plains, temperatures in Arkansas and Kansas reached the 80s.

Warm air holds more moisture than cold air, and the air over the Gulf of Mexico has heated significantly during climate change and feeds air currents that move south to north. In this case the moisture-laden warm air collided with a cold jet stream from the north and created a super-cell event in the form of a string of thunderstorms and tornados. Dr..Michael Mann, a climate scientist at Penn State University, recently noted that debris from this storms reached heights of 30,000 feet and were carried over 200 miles away; winds in these storms exceeded 150 miles per hour.

The jet stream, Dr Mann explains, is getting more “wobbly,” and this is creating deeper high- and low-pressure weather systems–hotter periods producing droughts and wetter periods producing floods. Climate scientists are also noting that “tornado alley” is moving eastward from the Great Plans (Kansas and Oklahoma) to the areas which were most recently struck by tornados. Climate scientists admit that attributing tornados directly to climate change this soon after the event is complicated, and time will be needed to make this attribution certain, but preliminary evidence in this case points to the warming climate.

We witnessed the fringe of this extreme weather system here in the Mid-Ohio Valley on Saturday morning, December 11.

When I was on my regular early-morning run through Devola, I experienced a torrential downpour and high winds that drove me to head home as soon as I could, It is just a matter of time until our area is struck by some form of severe weather, as it was in 2012 by the derecho event. This kind of extreme weather is often described as a “natural disaster.” There is nothing natural about weather events that are generated and exacerbated by human-induced climate change. It is the high level of greenhouse gas emissions caused by human activity–mainly the burning of fossil fuels-that is feeding these extreme weather events.

What can be done to address this problem? Simply stated, Congress needs to pass the Build Back Better Bill with its provisions to address climate change. Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia is key to this legislative agenda, and his state, with its many hills and hollows, is positioned to suffer some of the greatest hardship from extreme weather. Let him know your concern and his need to act responsibly.