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One Upside to Drought: the Fewest Tornadoes in the U.S. in At Least 60 Years

No water in the air means less fuel for tornadoes

smithsonian.com

A funnel cloud in Texas. Photo: Charleen Mullenweg

For two years the majority of the continental U.S. has been plagued by drought, a confluence of natural cycles that have worked together to drive up temperatures and dry up the land. But for all the damage that has been done by the long-running drought, there’s been an upside as well. The lack of water in the atmosphere has also sent the U.S. toward a record low for tornadoes, says Climate Central‘s Andrew Freedman.

The National Severe Storms Laboratory (NSSL) in Norman, Okla., estimates that, between May 2012 and April 2013, there were just 197 tornadoes ranked EF-1 or stronger on the Enhanced Fujita scale. That beats the previous 12-month low, which was 247 tornadoes from June 1991 and May 1992.

That’s the lowest recorded tornado activity since 1954, when scientists first really started keeping track. The number of deaths connected to tornadoes went down, too:

The U.S. did set a record for the longest streak of days without a tornado-related fatality — at 220 days — between June 24, 2012 and Jan. 26, 2013. And July 2012, which was the hottest month on record in the U.S., saw the fewest tornadoes on record for any July.

But the tornadoes didn’t just up and disappear, says Freedman in an August story. Rather, some of them just moved to Canada.

More from Smithsonian.com:

Don’t Blame the Awful U.S. Drought on Climate Change
Surviving Tornado Alley
Tornado Power: Green Energy of the Future?

About Colin Schultz
Colin Schultz

Colin Schultz is a freelance science writer and editor based in Toronto, Canada. He blogs for Smart News and contributes to the American Geophysical Union. He has a B.Sc. in physical science and philosophy, and a M.A. in journalism.

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