The Whipsaw: Tornado Edition

The climate “whipsaw” or “whiplash” that people are seeing, e.g., recent major floods in Illinois and Georgia (USA) appearing shortly after severe droughts, is anecdotally supportive of the idea of climate disruption, that as the system gets farther from equilibrium we will see new classes of transient behavior, new system modes. Regardless of whether and which records we see broken, year over year variability appears to be increasing.

So far, the only peer reviewed statistical confirmation of what, by now, most people suspect, is that of  Hansen, Sato, and Reudy (2012) .

It’s difficult to construct an a priori useful definition of “climate weirdness” that would detect any but the most extreme events. But this doesn’t mean it isn’t happening.

A particularly striking example is tornadic activity in the US recently. The 12 months just ended were the least tornadically active on record while the 12-month period of June 2010 through May 2011, which included the memorable Joplin MO and Tuscaloosa AL events, was the most active. Tornado expert Patrick Marsh has worked up an empirical model based on historical monthly tornado counts, and estimates that, on the assumption of a stable climate, the repeat time of activity comparable to 2010-2011 season is over 1000 years and the repeat time of low activity comparable to 2012-2103 is over 25,000 years.

h/t Jeff Masters




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