In the midst of the usual doomsaying, a panel of climate experts said Sunday that, contrary to the rampant speculation, there is likely no link between climate change and the deadly tornado that struck Moore, Okla., last week.
“I think it’s a bit premature to say that there’s a definitive link between that Moore tornado last week and climate change,” said J. Marshall Shepherd, president of the American Meteorological Society, before adding the inevitable caveat that more research is needed.
Jeffrey Kluger, editor-at-large at Time magazine and author of their cover story on Moore, agreed, summing up the competing forces involved. “In the case of the tornados — as Dr. Shepherd says — we’re reasonably sure there is no link. And, in fact, to the extent that climate change plays a role, the variables kind of neutralize one another. You get an increase in warm, moist air, which feeds tornadoes, but you also get a decrease in the up draft, the vertical shear. So they kind of cancel each other out.”
Cyclones often form at the tail end of thunderstorms, when wind near the surface and wind at altitude blow in opposite directions, creating a rotating, horizontal mass of air. Warm updrafts of the sort Kluger mentions can pull these masses vertical, forming cyclones. How and why these cyclones develop into full-blown tornadoes is not itself completely understood, so it’s no surprise that nothing definitive can be said about their relation to climate change.