If you live in the East, you probably worry about tornadoes as you do about earthquakes. Not going to happen.
One morning in late July Dena Connors woke up in her home in Upton, Massachusetts, and found a large tree branch protruding from her husband’s back windshield, paired with multiple downed trees, and a snapped basketball hoop. “It was the weirdest thing,” she told MetroWest Daily News. “It came so quick and went so fast.... My dog woke me up, and I heard it coming. I thought, ‘this is either a lot of rain or a really lot of wind that’s coming.’”
A week later another tornado, a weak one, touched down in New York City’s Queens borough. With winds of up to 85 m.p.h., it knocked down at least 50 trees, ripped down power lines, and peeled siding off houses. Tornadoes are so rare there that the National Weather Service’s alert mainly “inspired jokes about ruby slippers and related displays of ambivalence on Twitter,” according to a New York Times story.
No one is comparing the East to Tornado Alley, the region of the southern and central U.S. where most of the nation’s tornadoes touch down. But the frequency appears to be increasing.
Researchers know, The Times reported, that there are two ingredients that fuel severe storms that could spawn tornadoes: potential energy in the air and wind currents, or wind shear. The rising levels of greenhouse gases in the air add more energy to the climate system, Dr. Noah Diffenbaugh, a professor of earth system science at Stanford University, told reporter Kendra Pierre-Louis. There’s less consensus on how climate change will affect wind shear, though a 2013 study on the thunderstorm conditions that form tornadoes found that the impact was negligible.
Over all, Diffenbaugh said, “We do have strong evidence that, at the large scale, global warming is likely to increase the atmospheric environments that create the kind of severe thunderstorm that produces tornadoes.”
The United States gets more tornadoes, by far, than any other place on Earth. We average about 1,250 twisters a year. Canada, which sees about 100, is a “distant second,” according to the National Centers for Environmental Information.
During a summer featuring deadly heat waves and wildfires, the apparent increase in eastern tornadoes offers one more reason for us to take climate change more seriously. Unfortunately, the federal government seems unconcerned, watering down vehicle fuel-efficiency standards and the regulations designed to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from power plants. Even someone not concerned about climate change might be troubled to hear that EPA estimates that there would be between 470 and 1,400 additional premature annual deaths by 2030 under its new power plant regulations.
It’s time for Congress to stop sitting on its hands. Tell your representatives on Capitol Hill to enact a carbon fee and put the free market to work on curbing greenhouse gas emissions. You don’t want to look out your window and see roofs, cars, and trees flying by.