Late yesterday, as residents across nine states continued to scour the rubble for survivors of the recent devastating tornadoes, President Biden approved emergency declarations for Illinois and Tennessee.
The powerful storms left a trail of total destruction in their wake. It is therefore predicted that the death toll from the destructive tornadoes will still rise across several states.
In Kentucky, where at least 74 people were killed, the authorities are still said to be finding the bodies of the deceased amongst the rubble of buildings. At least one hundred people remain unaccounted for.
The tornadoes remain the deadliest on record, with scientists saying one tornado in particular was extreme for both its intensity and duration.
Stephen Strader, an Assistant Professor and Director of the Geography Program at Villanova University told the Washington Post “When you have a violent, long-tracked tornado traveling at highway speeds overnight, in December…it’s quite literally a recipe for disaster. It overwhelms the systems we put in place to protect people.”
So once again, was this extreme weather event climate change in action or a harbinger of things to come as our world warms?
President Biden has asked the Environmental Protection Agency to investigate the role of climate change in what happened. In the meantime, leading scientists are already sounding the alarm bells. One of the world’s leading climate scientists, Michael Mann from Penn State University told Democracy Now that the destruction caused by the tornado was “no natural disaster.”
“Make no mistake, we have been seeing an increase in these massive tornado outbreaks that can be attributed to the warming of the planet,” said Mann.
Mann also told USA TODAY that “the latest science indicates that we can expect more of these huge (tornado) outbreaks because of human-caused climate change.”
Other scientists have been quick to point to the unusually warm Spring-like temperatures across much of the Midwest and South last week. This allowed warm moist air to form into thunderstorms and from there into tornadoes.
Victor Gensini, a severe weather researcher from Northern Illinois University also told USA TODAY that what happened last weekend is exactly what climate models are predicting will happen as our climate warms and the climate emergency intensifies. “The unusual warmth had a big impact on the tornado outbreak,” he said.
Other scientists concur too. Jennifer Francis, a senior scientist at Woodwell Climate Research Center, told the Guardian that climate change was “making some of the ingredients needed to create an outbreak like this more likely.”
Francis added, “the atmosphere has more fuel in it now, both in terms of heat and moisture. The large dip in the jet-stream that created the clash between warm, tropical air and cold Arctic air – another necessary ingredient – is also more likely to occur in our changed climate.”