Barbara Boxer

Are Extreme Tornados a Harbinger of Global Warming?

Not so far.


Moore 2013 Tornado
Credit: Wikimedia

“This is climate change. We were warned about extreme weather: Not just hot weather, but extreme weather,” Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) declared on the floor of the U.S. Senate last week. “You’re going to have tornados and all the rest.” The senator’s impassioned outburst of climatological alarm was provoked by a mile-wide tornado that had just struck Moore, Oklahoma. The same twister provoked a Washington Post piece to speculate that record insurance losses in the past five years may be the result of tornados and other storms “possibly ramped up by climate change.”

The May 20 tornado has been classified as an EF-5, with peak winds at around 210 miles per hourâ€"a storm in which even well-built houses are leveled off of their foundations and automobile-sized projectiles fly more than 100 yards through the air. It killed 24 people, injured nearly 400 others, destroyed between 4,500 and 5,000 structures, and damaged another 15,000 to 20,000. Overall, it may have inflicted as much as $5 billion in property damage and other losses. The level of destruction was so great because the storm stayed on the ground for 40 minutes and traveled 17 miles.

Are extreme tornados becoming more frequent, as Sen. Boxer’s remarks suggest? The National Climate Data Center does say that there’s been “an increase in the number of tornado reports over the past several decades.” But it also notes that the increase is likely a spurious result attributable to more extensive Doppler radar coverage, increasing population, and greater focus on tornado reporting. 

In particular, Doppler radar has made it much easier to detect EF-0 tornados (with wind speeds of 65 to 85 mph), resulting in a dramatic rise in the numbers reported. If you exclude those, the agency reports, “There has been little trend in the frequency of the stronger tornadoes over the past 55 years.” Similarly, the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s 2012 report on trends on weather extremes concludes that there is no evidence for either an increase or a decrease in tornado frequency or intensity.

While the number of strong tornadoes has stayed steady, the rate of deaths from tornados has fallen about 90 percent in the last 90 years, from just under 2 per million in the 1920s to 0.2 per million recently. This is true even taking into account the tragic toll of 2011, in which 553 Americans were killed by the storms. The biggest tragedies in 2011 occurred when tornados ripped through Joplin, Missouri, and Tuscaloosa, Alabama, killing 158 and 64 people, respectively. The fact that warning times have increased from less than 5 minutes to 13 minutes since the 1970s accounts for much of the trend toward a lower death rate. In addition, Americans living in tornado-prone areas take twister warnings more seriously and engage in protective measures more actively.

Strong Tornado Frequency

What about the insurance losses cited by the Washington Post? Do they suggest anything about trends in tornados? Again, no.

In 2012, the University of Colorado political scientist Roger Pielke Jr., the Austin College economist Kevin Simmons, and the Troy University economist Daniel Sutter normalized U.S. tornado damage from 1950 to 2011. Their analysis published in the journal Environmental Hazards, provides an estimate of the damage that might be expected if past tornados or tornado seasons occurred today. Normalization takes changes in population, wealth, and housing stock into account, along with inflation.

In another analysisâ€"this one for the Geneva Association, an international insurance think tankâ€"the three researchers compared the tornado damage in the standout years of 1953, 1965, 1974, and 2011. In 1953, 519 people died and normalized damages exceeded $20 billion, in current dollars; in 1965, 301 people were killed and damages were greater than $20 billion; in 1974, 366 people died and losses were more than $10 billion; in 2011, 553 people were killed and damages totaled about $26 billion. But the losses in those years are way above the general trend: Overall, there was a 63 percent decline in normalized damages across the six-decade period. 

Normalized tornado losses

While not dispositive, their analysis suggests that this normalized decline in damages may mean that damaging tornados are becoming fewer. They add, though, that the tornado damage incurred in 2011 could indicate that “maximum damage levels have the potential to increase should societal change lead to increasing exposure of wealth and property.” In other words, a richer and more populous America could provide more targets for future tornados to hit. 

So as Americans become wealthier, tornado damage may get worse. On the other hand, casualties will likely fall, as technological advances increase warning times, enabling people to get out of way or take shelter sooner. Sen. Boxer is right about this much: Tornados are a kind of extreme weather. But on the evidence so far, she is wrong to suggest that the Moore tornado is related to climate change.

NEXT: Vietnam-Era US Weapon Finds New Work in Syrian Civil War

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. None of this so-called “evidence” stuff matters, Ron. It just feels like climate change is happening, and that’s enough to justify the destruction of the global ecomony. QED

    1. Was that tornado in Oklahoma due to climate change? I don’t think there is any way to answer that, either yes or no. Bailey only writes in broad generalities and statistics. He has nothing of interest to add regarding that particular event.

      I think what we should be on the look out for is the capacity of a tornado such as the one that hit Oklahoma to devastate an area to such an extent that the effort to rebuild is not undertaken. That will be the meaningful measure – when nature’s destructive capacity out does civilization’s recuperative capacity.

      1. Grayson. I agree that Eddie`s bl0g is great… I just got Land Rover Defender since I been bringin in $7002 this past 4 weeks and just a little over 10/k lass-month. this is certainly the coolest job I’ve ever had. I started this three months/ago and immediately began to bring in more than $85, per/hr. I follow the details on this straightforward website….
        (Go to site and open “Home” for details)

      2. Does anyone honestly think were are anywhere near that point? Is there any evidence we are heading to that point? Given the “generalities and statistics” cited in the article, I fail to see how this could be manifestly true.

        1. “anywhere near that point?”

          One way to tell is to look at the poorest areas devastated by these storms. I’m following this all that closely, but I thought that parts of New York area hit by the hurricane last year were slow in recovery. One thing we can look out for is a slowing recovery period. If we can see a lengthening period, this point is approaching. It may be too early to tell with the recent tornado in Oklahoma.

  2. My question is, if you lived in Moore, OK, which has now had two F5 tornadoes hit the town in the last 14 years………..

    ………why are you living in Moore, OK?

    1. They need to change the name to Less.

    2. If you like living in Moore and you have a good storm shelter and can afford insurance for total loss of all property to a tornado then why not live in Moore?

      Everywhere is prone to some sort of natural disaster.

      1. Some places are more prone than others.

    3. Or anywhere in TORONADO FREAKIN’ ALLEY.

    4. It’s dirt cheap to live in OK. Accepting the occasional tornado is part of the risk you accept to live cheaply.

      It’s like Boxer didn’t think there used to be tornadoes in the Midwest or something. But, hey, it’s just a flyover state, so why understand its historical climate patterns?

  3. EVERY hurricane, tornado, heavy rainfall, flood, snowstorm, cold day, hot day, mild day, and snowflake is evidence of global warming and demands government action.

    Jeez, Ron, I thought you knew that by now.

    1. You should add volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, and tsunamis to the list.

      At least according to the Guardian:

      Climate change will shake the Earth
      A changing climate isn’t just about floods, droughts and heatwaves. It brings erupting volcanoes and catastrophic earthquakes too…..hake-earth

      1. I am sure that supernovae and gamma ray bursts will make it onto the list eventually.

        1. I am sure that supernovae and gamma ray bursts will make it onto the list eventually.

          Not sure if you are joking or not, but it has been suggested.

          1. The article says the could cause climate change, which is plausible.

            I was joking about supernovae and gamma ray bursts being caused by climate change.

            1. being caused by

              If betelgeuse goes supernova in the next few years, I’m sure someone will try to blame global warming.

              Cosmic rays CAUSING climate change is actually much less insane that the inverse.

              1. Cosmic rays CAUSING climate change is actually much less insane that the inverse.

                Sorry, I read it as this. It is early here, or late, however you want to say it.

                1. Hmmm, cosmic radiation and stellar events that are so mindbogglingly huge and trumps anything that happens on Earth could have more of an influence on Earth’s climate than humans?

                  Nonsense! How can we politicize THAT? It must be humans.


              2. As an occasional stargazer, I am hoping for a naked-eye supernova in the Milky Way in my lifetime. Betelgeuse would be great. So would Rho Cassiopeia. (Eta Carinae, not so much, too far south from where I live.)

                1. Betelgeuse is going to be spectacular when it goes. I really hope it goes in my lifetime. Preferably while I’m looking at it in the night sky.

            2. Meh, reversing cause and effect is what they do best. That’s why they think co2 is driving the warming.

              1. it does

            3. “I was joking about supernovae and gamma ray bursts being caused by climate change.”

              I knew that. They’re Bush’s Fault ™.

              1. Y’all, ALL of you, have it totally wrong, globabble warmerering now become “climate change”, in whichever way it might change that gives anyone on the planet a bad hair day, is actually REALLY caused by insufficient worship of Government Almighty! And I might add, insufficient worship of Government Almighty is also the cause of sunspots, halitosis, and whale lice, and all other badness and chaos. But, quit yer bitchin’, and actually DO something about it! Even the primitives in the old days KNEW that, to stop the eclipse dragon from eating the Sun God, you had to go out and bang your drums really-really hard! And the folks in the middle ages of Europe knew that to stop your kid from getting sick, or you cow from having a miscarriage, you had to go out and burn some witches! Which is why I invented the Church of Scienfoology, which, through the PROPER conduct of Government Worship, will solve ALL problems! Join me in worship now at ?

      2. Just read the linked article.

        That is unusually dumb, especially for the Guardian. I know they are leftist, but their reporting is usually of very high calibre.

        Attempting to tie multi-millenium time-scale events to a trend that has been in place for barely 250 years – treating the start of large-scale coal burning at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution as the ‘beginning of global warming* – is patently ridiculous.

        *I am using the most generous interpretation of the significance of C02 emissions and the start of the rise in atmospheric concentrations of C02 for argument’s sake in order to allow the author the longest possible time scale, not because I agree with that interpretation.

        1. I find that there is often greater variation in quality of journalism within a paper than there is between papers.

      3. Funny how the book review didn’t seem to mention the CYCLICAL NATURE of the Earth’s Ice Ages…

        So, if the Vostok Core data is an accurate reflection of world temperatures, the next Ice Age is due in a few thousand years and ALL of the tectonic events should be damped by the added weight of all the high-latitude ice caps!


    2. Y’all been givin’ me too many 40 degree days!

    3. I think you’ve on the wrong track. The towns that were hit by the tornado were what they are thanks at least in part to government action. We truly feel the results of catastrophic events like this tornado when it’s decided that rebuilding the town is the best option and it’s left alone in ruins – government inaction.

      The fact that people demand government to act shows they haven’t been overwhelmed by the catastrophe. They still have some fight in them. Once the calls for action have stopped, then we know mother nature is victorious and civilization has retreated.

      1. “rebuilding the town is the best option”

        Pardon me, that should read NOT the best option.


      this website addresses every criticism of climate change. happy reading

  4. “Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) declared on the floor of the U.S. Senate last week.”

    Consider the source. CA’s the home of some real idiots in the US gov’t, but even the idiots figure Boxer is D U M, dum!

    1. you don’t get to talk.

      urban dictionary: “dum”
      The way morons type the word dumb

      1. I think your sarcasm detector is malfunctioning. Much like I don’t honestly believe that “Morans” is the proper spelling of the word.

  5. A bit OT.

    DC ambulance breaks down while transporting shooting victim to hospital…..o-hospital

    he driver of Ambulance 19 is telling investigators the indicator lights on the emission control system suddenly and unexpectedly jumped from a warning to shut down in a matter of seconds, and as the engine died, she was able to pull the rig to the side of the road.

    The question now is why? And can these newer rigs be trusted to be there in an emergency?

    When the D.C. fire department began buying these diesel engine ambulances a few years ago, officials knew they would have to manage them with a new emission control system that would automatically shut the engine down if it wasn’t allowed to what’s called “regenerate.”

    It was a mandate from the Environmental Protection Agency.

    I’m sure this oversight can be solved with more environmentally friendly legislation. Replace the ambulances with high speed trains.

    1. A terminal in every pot!

    2. Not surprising. Since there are only two proper communists states left, North Korea and Cuba, environmentalism has replaced communism as the world’s number one killer ideology.

      1. Environmentalism is more subtle, though. It kills indirectly, so the consequences are harder to see. It will take longer to get rid of environmentalism than it did Communism.

        1. Yes. It is in many ways much more insidious than communism.

      2. you are confusing communism with leninism and stalinism. if you read any of marx, you’ll see that what those countries became was the opposite of communism

  6. Here’s my list of everything not attributable to Global Warming:


    End of list.

    1. Empty bullet points have been linked to Climate Change, you know.

      1. Not if you purchase your carbon credits. Money fixes everything you see.

        1. Will Greens at least build some nice architecture with the proceeds from their indulgences like the Catholics did?

          1. If you like the look of windmills and solar panel/mirror arrays, then yes.

            1. I don’t, so no. Not exactly St. Peters.

              1. Yeah. No one likes the look of solar panels arrays and windmills. That’s why they so often get NIMBY’d, even by supporters.

              2. John, St. Peters is indeed awe inspiring, but I must push Cologne to the top of my list. I have been to Saint Chapelle, Notre Dame, The Duomo, Westminster Abbey, and many many more but still, the Norman cathedrals (Salisbury) in the UK and the early Gothic cathedral of Cologne are gorgeous…The Kremlin is pretty sweet too.

                1. Chartres is my favorite cathedral.

                  But it wasn’t just funded by indulgences. The peasants were taxed heavily to pay for it.

                  1. Well at least they got 30 days or so off their sentences in Purgatory, didn’t they? Crybabies!

                2. You want eye-disease? The cathedral in Strasbourg. Nothing even comes close.
                  You can stare at that thing for an hour and your eye still won’t find a place to land.

              3. Or that one in Barcelona…or Madrid…the really spiky one.

                /wicked cultured

                1. Sagrada Familia? If it is ever finished it will be incredible. I mean, it already is incredible, but it will be even more so.

      2. If we could reduce our daily usage of periods by just three, we could save millions of pixels and help stop climate change!

        1. Hm. Periods must be transmitted at 1 byte per period, costing power. But then they darken 1 or more pixels on the screen when displayed, saving power. We should commission a federal study to do a cost/benefit analysis on this subject. Coincidentally my company already has a proposal ready for consideration.

      1. Holy crap! I know the old saying about peak DERP, but DAMN that’s gotta be up there.

  7. If Barbara Boxer said it, it must be true.

    1. …said nobody ever.

      1. Boxer’s KIDS wouldn’t believe it if she said ‘look east for the sunrise’.

  8. As someone who finds the evidence for AGW to be pretty compelling it frustrates me to no end to here this type of unscientific reactionary BS. But I can’t say that I’m surprised given the success that the gun control advocates have had in demonizing things like “assault rifle” by simply using it in conjunction with other scary words. It just seems to be the modus operandi for some people.

    1. You’re conflating a few things. Whether or not global warming is occurring is one issue. Whether mankind is to blame is another issue. Whether global warming has caused or will cause more extreme weather is third issue. The first issue is pretty much agreed on as true. The second is highly debatable, and the third was just disproven by the statistics provided in this article.

      1. I’m not confusing anything. I find the case for man-made global warming to be compelling, as I said. I find anyone who claims that a single weather event can be tied to global warming to be reactionary and full of BS. And as you said, the evidence doesn’t support a statistical increase in the strength of tornadoes over the period of warming (at least not yet).

        1. It’s also worth noting that all the places that are allegedly vulnerable to these AGW fueled superduperstorms are already vulnerable and always have been.

          The need for disaster preparedness and mitigation is the same no matter what. Vulnerable communities need to build hardened infrastructure and even relocate people from vulnerable areas (preferably with voluntary incentives). They’re avoiding doing so in the hope they can fob the blame for unpopular cstly decisions onto another level of government, as well as getting them to pick up the tab.


            this website addresses every criticism of climate change. happy reading

    2. What evidence?

      1. Come one, Sy. Don’t you know that the science is settled and there’s a consensus. I mean, they did models and everything. And ALL the predictions they made obviously came true.

        1. Yeah, it’s not like scientists pointing out extreme flaws in the methodology or results from the studies have been widely ostracized by political opponents or anything.

        2. you can support global warming without relying on a single model.

          and actually, the predictions of the early global warming science HAVE come true. you just gotta know what they were, and when they were made.

          btw, for 10 points, who here knows when the earliest global warming warnings were raised by the scientific community?

          1. “and actually, the predictions of the early global warming science HAVE come true. you just gotta know what they were, and when they were made.”

            You cherry pick, in other words.


              this website addresses every criticism of climate change. happy reading


        this website addresses every criticism of climate change. happy reading

    3. “As someone who finds the evidence for AGW to be pretty compelling it frustrates me to no end to here this type of unscientific reactionary BS.”

      Why does it bother you? Boxer’s making up bullshit which Bailey showed pretty convincingly to BS. They recently had a guy claiming Global Warming was an “extinction level event” (those were his words).

      In that kind of environment, with people making those kinds of outrageous claims, pretty much any and all opposition is justified.

  9. Take a look into Haarp. It was aimed toward where the storms were.

  10. Senator Boxer’s comments don’t surprise me, and they aren’t the first by a senator from this state. Senator Feinstein intimated the same thing after Katrina. The two problems with that for her was that the very next year was a down year in the cycle, and that historically, there’s also no evidence of larger or more frequent hurricanes.

  11. Nothing says “science” then just spouting bullshit without any actual you know evidence. Like blaming hurricanes and tornadoes on global warming. No need to actually prove these have gotten worse or how human CO2 emissions are causing them just the fact that there is bad weather is proof of Global Warming. Science!


      this website addresses every criticism of climate change. happy reading

  12. Tom Selleck told me the Rockies guide cold air in the north and warm air from the south together to create tornados. Magnum P. I. would not lie to me Senator.

  13. TL:DR version for any article that asks that type of qestion.


    1. *question


      1. Answer the qwestion!!!! (Poor Arnold impersonation)

  14. You just don’t get it Ron. This tornado was really huge. This single data point is all you need to know to see that climate change is killing innocents by the droves.


  15. “You’re going to have tornados and all the rest.”

    Right Babs, ’cause there’s never been a tornado in Oklahoma (or the western plains) before.

    And New York City and the Jersey shore have never been hit by a hurricane before.

    The funny thing is that whether AGW is real or not a lot more has to be done to prepare for and deal with the aftermath of catastrophic weather events. Some places are doing it already and others would just like to have you believe that the only reason there’s a problem is because of climate change.

  16. So what is the standard AGW answer to the beginning and ending of the multiple ice ages that took place before industrialization of the world?

    1. “that’s different”

      1. I’ll worry about AGW when the weather man gets the weekend report right on the regular.

    2. Most progressives don’t bother to look at conditions during that time period. “Great Oxygenation Event? Is that some sort of Save the Earth rally?”


        this website addresses every criticism of climate change. happy reading

    3. i know what the answer is. but you’re not gonna like it.

    4. Well, see, when the Dinosaurs were around, they were big, and exhaled a lot of CO2.


        this website addresses every criticism of climate change. happy reading

  17. Why are we referring to this tornado as “extreme”? I also heard reporters describe this tornado as remorseless, uncompassionate and merciless. It’s a tornado; it’s wind; it’s not a sociopath. It was a large tornado that was briefly at F5 strength but didn’t even make the list of Oklahoma’s top 10 deadliest tornadoes. I wouldn’t even grant Boxer the unchallenged perspective to call it extreme. The same goes for Hurricane Sandy (category 3 at it’s peak, a 1 when it hit) and Katrina (category 3 when it came ashore).

    1. You know you are a Floridian when you know anything under a cat 3 isn’t worth getting excited about.

      1. … said no floridian ever who happened to be NJ when Sandy came ashore

  18. Actually, since global warming preferentially warms cooler air more than warmer air, and since tornadoes result from the confluence of cold Canadian air and warm Gulf air, the most obvious conclusion is that global warming would reduce tornado frequency and intensity.

    1. Global cooling! Ice age a cometh! I’m agin it! You’re agin it! God’s agin it!

    2. “the most obvious conclusion is that global warming would reduce tornado frequency and intensity.”

      And that won’t get Babs campaign contributions! Stuff it.


      this website addresses every criticism of climate change. happy reading

  19. A tornado hit the capital region of NY Wednesday evening, but sadly missed any politicians. I enjoyed this comment from a witness to the storm:

    “I don’t get scared easy, but I was nervous,” Bob confessed. “We heard the warning that Mariaville was going to get hit with a possible tornado, and Mariaville doesn’t get recognition for anything so we took notice.”

    1. Bones| 5.31.13 @ 4:02PM |#
      “A tornado hit the capital region of NY Wednesday evening, but sadly missed any politicians.”

      Prolly National Lampoon:
      ‘Howard Cosell was shot in the head today, so no important organs were harmed’

  20. …and, of course, Boxer’s “solution” is a nut-punch to the economy.

    That seems to be the “progressive” solution to every problem (real or hysterically imagined).

  21. my buddy’s aunt makes $76 every hour on the computer. She has been out of a job for seven months but last month her check was $14817 just working on the computer for a few hours. Read more here…

  22. my buddy’s mother-in-law makes $64 hourly on the computer. She has been out of work for six months but last month her check was $14017 just working on the computer for a few hours. Go to this web site and read more Go to site and open Home for details

  23. Yes & No. Beware of legislation that limits our rights and puts even more power and funds (via the phony cap and trade scheme) into the hands of the few.

    Read my article for an all out review of the history, application, reasoning, and true meaning of our cyclical warming and cooling cycles (hint: its our Sun).…

  24. I respect that you are suspicious of everything, but climate change is solid science. i’ve linked a website that addresses literally every criticism of climate change. happy reading.

  25. tornados becoming more frequent, as Sen. Boxer’s remarks

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.