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Will tornado outbreaks become more common in the future?

Aug. 15 marks 235 years since the first known tornado outbreak in the United States. What does that mean?

MOLINE, Ill. — 235 years ago on Aug. 15. 1787, the United States experienced its first tornado outbreak. 

The outbreak occurred in the northeastern part of the United States, which numerous powerful storms rampaging in then-newfound states like New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island.

Although many of the tornadoes occurred in uninhibited areas, some towns did experience significant damage. A tornado with a 20-mile path ripped apart the area from Killingly, Connecticut to Mendon, Massachusetts. 

A tornado with a five-mile path tore through the area of Connecticut Northeast to East Windsor.  A tornado with an eight-mile spun from Northborough, Massachusetts to Framingham, Massachusetts. Another tornado of an unknown length went through Rochester, New Hampshire causing notable damage. 

Two deaths were confirmed which were lives lost in a tornado that traveled from New Britain, Connecticut to Coventry, Connecticut. Historical data notes that the storm caused extensive damage and many injuries.

Could we see more tornado outbreaks?

Tornadoes are incredibly small, and they occur relatively quickly when compared to other extreme weather events like hurricanes, making them difficult to model in climate simulations that scientists use to project the effects of climate change.

In order to try to predict how tornadoes can occur in the future scientist predict how climate change affects the individual ingredients that support the development of supercell thunderstorms that produce tornadoes:

  • Warm, moist air
  • Unstable atmosphere  
  • Wind shear which is wind at different levels in the atmosphere moving in a different direction and at different speeds

Studies have predicted that climate change could provide more opportunities for more severe thunderstorms to form, which theoretically provides more opportunities for more tornadoes to occur.

Research in recent years has shown changes in tornado patterns. It has shown there are fewer days with at least one tornado, but more days with over 30 tornadoes, showing that tornadoes are becoming more clustered.

There still to needs more research done to get a more concrete answer, but as of now, the events that happened on Aug. 15, 1787 could become more common.

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