Source: Anthony Watts

Speaking in Wilmington, Delaware on Saturday, President Joe Biden blamed the recent deadly tornado outbreak in Kentucky on “climate change.” Biden stated, “The fact is we all know everything is more intense when the climate is warming and obviously it has some impact here.”  

Biden’s statement is laughably inept and easily disproved. All one has to do is look past the opinions, pronouncements, and hand waving and concentrate on what science and data actually say about the issues.

First, the top five deadliest tornadoes in America all occurred between 1840 and 1936. The Great Natchez Tornado on May 7, 1840, killed 317 people and was the second-deadliest tornado in U.S. history. The deadliest was March 18, 1925, Tri-State Tornado, which was also the longest-tracked tornado in U.S. history. The massive F5 tornado traveled 219 mi (352 km) across Missouri, Illinois, and Indiana, killing 695 people. 

Second, the last half of the 65-year U.S. tornado record had 40 percent fewer strong-to-violent tornadoes (EF3 rated or greater) than the first half. To claim that climate change is causing severe tornadoes is speculation, and directly opposite data publicly available from the National Weather Service (NWS).

Dr. Roy Spencer, a climatologist at the University of Alabama, Huntsville points out, “To claim that global warming is causing more tornadoes is worse than speculative; it is directly opposite to the clear observational evidence.”

A graph of 50 years of tornado data from the NWS Storm Prediction Center (NWSPC) clearly illustrates the downward trend in violent U.S. tornadoes rated EF3 or greater since 1970.

Source: NOAA Storm Prediction Center: https://www.spc.noaa.gov/wcm/

In fact, 2017-2018 set the U.S. record for the longest period in history (306 days) without an EF3 or stronger tornado.

But there is an important distinction that must be made. While there’s an upward trend in all tornadoes — due to increased reporting courtesy of millions of cellphone cameras, storm chasers, and expanding populations — violent tornadoes rated EF3 or greater, like the one in Kentucky, are down significantly.

Third, the number of tornadoes this year has been below average. Moreover, 2018 was a record low year for tornado occurrences and deaths in the United States. Provisional data from NWS indicate the tornadoes that hit Mayfield, Kentucky, and Edwardsville, Illinois were both rated as EF3s. Although most tornadoes occur in spring and early summer, violent tornadoes are not unheard of in winter. Data show that on average since 1950 there have been five tornadoes every winter of EF3 and greater strength in the United States.

Fourth, tornado outbreaks can’t happen without cold air. When cold air juxtaposes with warm, moist air on a frontal system, we get strong thunderstorms and violent tornadoes.

With a modestly warming world, the difference between equatorial and polar temperature lessens, which is why we have had a downward trend in violent tornadoes. With a smaller temperature difference between the pole to the equator, there’s less energy differential between polar cold fronts and warmer, moister subtropical air in the United States.

Finally, the claimed global authority on climate change and weather, the United Nations group known as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), produced a special report on severe weather in 2018 that found climate has little or no influence on tornadoes. “There is low confidence in observed trends in small spatial-scale phenomena such as tornadoes,” said the report. 

So, why would President Biden make such claims of a linkage between the tornado outbreak and climate change when science and data say there is no causation? A recently published scientific paper sheds some light on this. 

The paper, titled “Politics of attributing extreme events and disasters to climate change,” states: “While politicians may want to blame crises on climate change, members of the public may prefer to hold government accountable for inadequate investments in flood or drought prevention and precarious living conditions… The desire to persuade the public of the dangers of climate change via attributions of climate events pressures scientists and the media alike to attribute extreme climate events (and associated crises) to climate change.”

Unfortunately, the corporate media have massively repeated President Biden’s incorrect claim that “climate change” is to blame for a tragic outbreak of deadly tornadoes.

The media simply didn’t do their job of conducting even the simplest investigation, and as a result, Americans are once again grossly misinformed.

Anthony Watts is a senior fellow for environment and climate at The Heartland Institute. Watts has been in the weather business both in front of, and behind the camera as an on-air television meteorologist since 1978, and currently does daily radio forecasts. He has created weather graphics presentation systems for television, specialized weather instrumentation, as well as co-authored peer-reviewed papers on climate issues. He operates the most viewed website in the world on climate, the award-winning website wattsupwiththat.com.

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