Variability of tornado occurrence over the continental United States since 1950

Authors

  • Li Guo,

    1. Department of Ecosystem Science and Management, Pennsylvania State University, University Park, Pennsylvania, USA
    2. State Key Laboratory of Earth Surface Processes and Resource Ecology, College of Global Change and Earth System Science, Beijing Normal University, Beijing, China
    3. Joint Center for Global Change Studies, Beijing, China
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  • Kaicun Wang,

    Corresponding author
    1. State Key Laboratory of Earth Surface Processes and Resource Ecology, College of Global Change and Earth System Science, Beijing Normal University, Beijing, China
    2. Joint Center for Global Change Studies, Beijing, China
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  • Howard B. Bluestein

    1. School of Meteorology, University of Oklahoma, Norman, Oklahoma, USA
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Abstract

The United States experiences the most tornadoes of any country in the world. Given the catastrophic impact of tornadoes, concern has arisen regarding the variation in climatology of U.S. tornadoes under the changing climate. A recent study claimed that the temporal variability of tornado occurrence over the continental U.S. has increased since the 1970s. However, that study ignored the highly regionalized climatology of U.S. tornadoes. To address this issue, we examined the long-term trend of tornado temporal variability in each continental U.S. state. Based on the 64 year tornado records (1950–2013), we found that the trends in tornado temporal variability varied across the U.S., with only one third of the continental area or three out of 10 contiguous states (mostly from the Great Plains and Southeast, but where the frequency of occurrence of tornadoes is greater) displaying a significantly increasing trend. The other two-thirds area, where 60% of the U.S. tornadoes were reported (but the frequency of occurrence of tornadoes is less), however, showed a decreasing or a near-zero trend in tornado temporal variability. Furthermore, unlike the temporal variability alone, the combined spatial-temporal variability of U.S. tornado occurrence has remained nearly constant since 1950. Such detailed information on the climatological variability of U.S. tornadoes refines the claim of previous study and can be helpful for local mitigation efforts toward future tornado risks.

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