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The Increasing Efficiency of Tornado Days in the United States

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Wednesday, 5 November 2014
Capitol Ballroom AB (Madison Concourse Hotel)
James Elsner, Florida State University, Tallahassee, FL; and T. H. Jagger and S. Elsner

We analyze the historical record of tornado reports in the United States and find compelling evidence for changes in tornado climatology possibly related to global warming. We 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 summarized as an increasing proportion of tornadoes occurring on big tornado days. 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.