The Star Democrat
Climate change brings unusual tornadoes, other unstable weather
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.