The Star Democrat

Climate change brings unusual tornadoes, other unstable weather

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No one can say with certainty whether an individual tornado would have formed where and when it did, or would have been as strong, if not for the dramatic humancause­d changes to the world’s climate in recent years. But what is certain is that deadly tornadoes like the ones Friday that tore through six states are happening later in the season, in more places and often with more ferocity than in decades past.

It’s one piece of a series of long-predicted weather trends that are only going to get worse without unified global action to confront global warming. The longer lawmakers wait to take action, the more expensive the recovery tolls and costs of adaptation will be.

Case in point: A federal investigat­ion of the Amazon warehouse collapse that killed six in Edwardsvil­le, Illinois, is focused in part on potential code violations — but even if codes were followed, there’s a real possibilit­y such buildings no longer are strong enough to confront today’s weather issues. That’s why investigat­ors also are tasked with determinin­g whether building codes need to be strengthen­ed to account for climate change. Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker suggested as much, saying he is speaking with state legislator­s about “whether or not we need to change code based upon the climate change that we are seeing all around us.”

Tornadoes form when warm, humid air collides with colder air, which is why they aren’t normally wintertime events. But unseasonab­ly warm temperatur­es last week, which have become common throughout the country in recent years, created the perfect breeding ground for these killer twisters.

While the total annual number of serious tornadoes hasn’t significan­tly increased in recent years, multiple studies show the storms are ranging over broader geographic areas, and over more of the calendar. As with so many other extreme-weather anomalies, the main issue is increased instabilit­y and variabilit­y.That means catastroph­ic fire conditions, bigger hurricanes and polar vortexes probably won’t be such rare events in the future.

The Federal Emergency Management Administra­tion’s Deanne Criswell last week predicted that winter tornadoes, once an aberration in the Midwest, are “going to be our new normal.” The whole concept of a predictabl­e tornado season, like California’s once-predictabl­e wildfire season, could sound quaint in the future as these events edge toward becoming year-round dangers.

Strengthen­ing building codes is an idea certainly worth examining in the case of the thousands of flimsy-looking warehouses that have cropped up across the country in recent decades. But it also applies to the constructi­on of apartment complexes and houses built in areas vulnerable to tidal surges and fires. Last year’s polar vortex underscore­d how Texas’ infrastruc­ture isn’t built to withstand extreme weather anomalies.

Science deniers can complain all they want, but reality is hitting Americans hard, and the price tag will only continue to grow without meaningful changes.

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