UPDATED. Originally published Feb. 6 at 1:54 p.m.
Temperatures as much as 25 degrees higher than normal set the stage for the deadly tornadoes that descended on the American south, leading to death, injuries and destruction in Kentucky, Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama and Tennessee.
At least 48 people died, according to the latest Associated Press report, and dozens more were injured. Buildings, including a shopping mall and college dormitories, were destroyed or badly damaged.
Accuweather.com labeled the cluster of storms "historic," and they were widely reported to be the most deadly and destructive in at least a decade. Certainly, tornadoes are not typical of winter, since they require warmth enough in the atmosphere to form. This is the second round of winter tornadoes to form this year.
Is this another global warming harbinger?
Update: Sen. John Kerry thinks so. Interviewed on MSNBC Feb. 6, he called attention to scientific predictions that links stronger storms, including tornadoes, to rising atmospheric temperatures.
It's important to note that no weather event can be attributed to global warming, or said to have been caused by global warming.
But scientists have predicted both that wintertime temperatures, more than summer temperatures, will increase due to global warming (data already shows that winter and nighttime temperatures are rising faster, on average, than daytime and summer temperatures) and that strong thunderstorms and tornadoes will be more frequent visitors to the U.S. More than 1,000 high-temperature records have been set already in 2008, according to Gannett News Service.
In August, NASA scientists found that one consequence of a warmer climate is a greater chance of updrafts, the precursor to thunderstorms and tornadoes. More updrafts + more heat energy = more intense and frequent storms.
Already, the frequency of extreme rainfall events has increased, according to a December Environment America analysis of weather data. The group found extreme rainfall events as defined by a day of rain that meets or exceeds the one-day rain record for any one year increased 24% between 1948 and 2006.
This map shows the tornadoes reported. They are still under investigation.
NOAA / Storm Prediction Center
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