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The incredible vanishing U.S. tornado losses

22 Nov 2023 | Science Notes

All together now: climate change is causing damage from extreme weather to get worse and worse. And don’t say you weren’t warned. As Roger Pielke Jr. notes, the Fourth US National Climate Assessment in 2017 declared “[T]here is reason to expect increased tornado frequency and intensity in a warming climate.” Aside from the iron rule that every effect of climate change is bad and every bad thing is due to climate change, do these “reasons” include, say, upward trends in damages? Upward trends in the severity of tornado events? Well, how about neither? H/T RPJr we learn of a new study, ironically from Australia, looking at historical US tornado damages that concludes losses due to US tornadoes and even the observed severity of the events is trending down over time. Cue the whirlwind of rationalization.

The authors examined data covering 1954 to 2018. A big challenge of long-term trend analysis is that prior to 1996 the monitoring network in the US was incomplete and smaller tornado events were frequently missed. So the authors had to construct measures that were consistent over the time interval. Also, tornadoes can do more damage today because cities are larger and there is more valuable stuff in the path of a storm, so the damage measures have to be “normalized”, meaning adjusted for changes in inflation and the size of the economy.

The results show that normalized tornado damage losses are, well, see if you can make out the pattern:

Those are total normalized losses, and here is the chart of normalized losses per tornado:

The authors summarize their findings as follows:

“Our findings suggest an overall national significant decline in normalized losses from tornado events. At the country level, both the severity of damage from individual events and the total annual losses from tornadoes are seen to have reduced over time.”

Pielke Jr. notes that the new study agrees quite closely with his own work, and comments:

“There is simply no evidence to support claims that tornadoes are getting worse or causing more damage. In fact, the evidence indicates the opposite and peer-reviewed research is strongly in agreement.”

But, he warns, in this age of misinformation don’t expect to learn about this from the usual government agencies:

“However, despite all this these studies are all but comprehensively ignored by the media and the scientific assessments of the IPCC and US National Climate Assessment.
Why is this literature ignored?
Misinformation on extreme weather and disasters sits out in plain sight, and is easily refuted – yet there seem to be exceedingly strong social norms and political pressures to simply not call things straight. It is really remarkable.”

And when governments and their scientists get caught spreading blatant misinformation, and the public stops believing anything they say as a result, the other remarkable thing is that they don’t think to try and fix the IPCC or to stop government scientists from peddling alarmism, instead they whine about the public’s impertinence and accuse their critics of “denialism”. Pielke Jr. says he’s confident science will “win out” in the end, it might just take a while. In the meantime, hold on to your wallets, but not because they’re about to be blown away.

One comment on “The incredible vanishing U.S. tornado losses”

  1. I was near the F5 tornado that hit Lubbock, Texas on 11 May, 1970. It was the 5th worst on record and provided the impetus for Prof. Fujita to develop the existing scale on which tornadoes are measured. That was 50 years ago. Climate hacks not withstanding tornadoes have not gotten either more violent or more damaging.

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