US Tornado Count Doubles, Heads Toward Record

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There were 350 tornadoes in the United States in the first quarter of the year, up from an average for the period of 140. Likely, when the final count is made, 2017 will pass 2008 as the year with the most tornadoes during the first quarter. The numbers are likely to get worse.

According to U.S. Tornadoes, which uses data from the NOAA Storm Prediction Center:

There have been outbreaks in each month of the year, and roughly 360 to 400 tornadoes so far. That’s more than twice normal to date, and we’ve barely even started to wander through the beginning of peak severe weather season, which runs April-June.

The data goes back to 1956.

At the current rate, tornado activity is almost certain to pass the annual average of 1,253. Tornado activity most years rises from March to April, peaks in May and then slowly drops through June and July.

Will global warming push tornado activity higher as time passes? Perhaps not, based on data from a study by researchers at Columbia University. In a paper titled “Increasing Tornado Outbreaks: Is Climate Change Responsible?” experts found:

The fact that we don’t see the presently understood meteorological signature of global warming in changing outbreak statistics leaves two possibilities: Either the recent increases are not due to a warming climate, or a warming climate has implications for tornado activity that we don’t understand. This is an unexpected finding.

Put another way, they don’t know.