Good Question: Why Is This Tornado Season So Deadly?

By Jason DeRusha, WCCO-TV

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — It’s only May and 2011 is already a year for the history books as tornadoes have killed more Americans this spring than in any other.

So that got Debbie in Maple Grove, Minn., wanting to know: Why has it been such a deadly season for tornadoes?

Part of the answer has to do with how many tornadoes there have been in the United States. So far, in April and May, the U.S. has seen more tornadoes than it usually sees in a year. In other words: the more tornadoes there are, the greater chance there is for disaster.

WCCO-TV meteorologist Mike Fairbourne has been tracking tornadoes for decades. He says the jet stream has been a little more chaotic than usual.

He explained that ripples in the jet stream import moist, unstable air from the south that meets cool, drier air from the north.

“And it’s the interaction of both air masses that actually creates the severe weather,” Fairbourne said.

However, no one knows why the jet stream has been so crazy this year.

The Gulf of Mexico is two degrees warmer than normal, but the wind shear in the atmosphere is the same.

To answer the question as to why the tornadoes are so deadly, that has to do with people not having basements and tornadoes hitting populated areas. For instance, if the deadly tornado that killed 139 people in Joplin, Mo., hit five miles north, only 10 people would have died.

Some have suggested that global warming might be a factor in this spring’s crazy weather, but Fairbourne doesn’t think that’s the case.

“[Global warming] has been the assumption: a warmer earth would create more evaporation, more instability in the atmosphere, but i think it’s a little bit of a stretch,” Fairbourne said.

More from Jason DeRusha
  • alan walker

    you live in cheap homes and the people who built the cheap only want money. this includes the city you live in. that is why you’re homeless and family member are dead. they don’t care though.

  • jesse

    So basically we have no idea why there are more tornadoes this year. Maybe it’s because the world is coming to an end soon.

  • Concerned

    The Earth appears to be developing an increasing wobble. Jerking the Earth about under her cloak of air would certainly create jet stream loops and extreme temperature changes. A clue would be to observe the “Real-time Magnetosphere Simulation”. Any plot of a normal magnetosphere will show output from the N Pole circle round, and return at the S Pole. So what would cause the Earth’s magnetosphere to temporarily show only an outbound stream (blue lines)? It is as though the magnetons are diverted away from returning to the Earth’s S Pole. Something is causing the N. Pole of Earth to push away then a rebound where it tilts forward, creating a figure 8 wobble.

  • Hooover

    Seriously there is a very simple answer. The snow season was exceptionally long this year and may be for a the next 2-7 years, similar to the 70s. That means heavier snowpacks and more flooding thru the center of the US. Wider spread evaporation and when that mixes with the cold fronts coming from the northwest across the rockies, the cold and wind sliding up from the southwest and the warmth and humidy coming north form the gulf stream you have the potential for heavy tornado developing storms all along the Missouri and Missippi, Wabash, and Ohio Rivers. The native Americans were very aware of this type of season and would move towards safer terrain when the heavy storms were expected. Even Laura Ingals Wilder mentioned it in her Little House books. Americas early settlers built in small safe areas, but as we spread out to the suburbs and open areas, we have moved into the danger zones and moving a house is much more difficult than moving a house. You see a similar thing with deer vs vehicle accidents. When we were kids in the 50’s seeing a deer was unusuaal unless you went out hunting. Now they are lying on the side of the road, crossing the playgrounds playing in backyards and walking down the mainstreets of some cities. As far as storms – we now have the technology to report on every little tornado or hurricane that develops and cable news hogs like CNN, FOX, Weather Channel, local chasers, twitter, facebook, you see every single one of them. However, before cable and the iternet the storms were there, you just didn’t know it if they weren’t local news or unless you made Life Magazine or Time. Now when storms hit, the whole country knows and heads your way to help. Hey it could be worse – you could be one of us crazy westerners who have over-populated cities built on massive earthquake faults knowing tomorrow will bring a few dozen tremors while we wait for the next big one or two or three to hit.

  • Expert?

    Come on, Jason, why would you ask Mike Fairbourne to be the expert opinion on this question? Many of us remember Mike’s public rejection of the science of climate change several years ago. He is a highly biased observer. WCCO management responded to my comment at that time by saying that they have not hired Mike to be their climate change reporter. Just the weather, nothing else.

  • Bob

    I thought Mike Fairbourne had left his bias behind, and I was with them (they’d read the Star Tribune that morning) – until they closed with Mike saying it’s a stretch to blame this on global warming.

    While we may not have the evidence for this now, the current weather extremes are the type of thing that the climate change theories tend to predict. While a link may not be proven at present, it’s certainly a possible explanation and dismissing it so lightly shows his bias.

    It’s a stretch for me to watch weather on a station that doesn’t pay more attention to science. I don’t think I’ll stretch any more.

  • Melynda Nevis

    Hi there! I know this is kinda off topic however , I’d figured I’d ask. Would you be interested in trading links or maybe guest authoring a blog article or vice-versa? My site addresses a lot of the same topics as yours and I feel we could greatly benefit from each other. If you are interested feel free to send me an email. I look forward to hearing from you! Awesome blog by the way! <

  • D

    Here’s 100% proof that an Earth wobble is occurring now. Find and view the web cams at the Neumayer-Station in the Antarctic. From June 14th – 29th there should be NO sunlight. However the Neumayer-Station is receiving 4-5 hours of sunlight at this time.

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