That spate of destructive thunderstorms that struck the U.S. last year, killing scores of people and racking up billions of dollars in damages? Get ready for more. A lot more.
Such storms typically are strongest in the spring, but as the planet warms, those storms will also increasingly strike in the autumn and the winter between 2070 and 2099, states the report published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The study found that severe thunderstorms will also hit the Midwest and Great Plains regions of the US with greater frequency.
But there’s hope for future generations if temperatures are kept in check. "Curbing the increase in emissions would affect the magnitude of the increase of storms in the late 21st century," Diffenbaugh says.
One of those conditions is warming air in the lower atmosphere that carries moisture to higher altitudes, a phenomenon known as convective available potential energy or CAPE. There it interacts with wind currents—what scientists call vertical wind shear—to create a storm. Earlier computer models seemed to show that as global temperatures rise due to climate change, CAPE would increase while wind shear would decrease, making unclear the impact of global warming on storm formation.
The study did not attempt to quantify the impact of global warming on tornadoes, given the complex atmospheric conditions associated with their formation and the limitations of current computer models. But Diffenbaugh noted that the same atmospheric conditions can produce the type of destructive tornadoes that have devastated parts of the US in recent years.
This post originally appeared on Quartz, an Atlantic partner site.