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'Here we go again': Is latest spate of tornadoes a new normal in Missouri and Kansas?

Eric Adler, Laura Bauer, and Steve Vockrodt, The Kansas City Star on

Published in Weather News

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Perched in front of his laptop in his Wichita, Kan., home, meteorologist Mike Smith watched on his screen Wednesday as one tornado after another, five in a single day, touched down with devastating force.

The first was in Kansas, followed by another that cut through tiny Golden City, Mo., killing three people. Then, as the clock ticked toward midnight, a twister with EF-3 winds in excess of 135 miles per hour cut a path through Jefferson City, the state's capital, heaving bricks and turning homes into dollhouses ripped open to the sky.

A thought went through Smith's head.

"Here we go again. ... It's just part of the natural cycles of weather."

Indeed, Smith is right. Missouri and Kansas this past week were stuck in a cycle of severe weather that rolls around roughly every 15 to 20 years. The last time the region had so many back-to-back tornadoes was in May 2003.

Nothing new there, Dorothy.

But other scientists suggest that something more novel may also be stirring in the winds.

Putting politics and personal beliefs aside as to the cause of global warming (most scientists have zero doubt that it is man-made), there is no question that planet Earth is heating up. In the last 139 years, nine of the 10 warmest years on record were since 2005. The planet's temperature has increased 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit since 1901, according to the Fourth National Climate Assessment released in 2018.

Recent scientific work suggests that climate change in Kansas, Missouri and elsewhere could eventually lead to thunderstorms that are wetter and perhaps more violent, flooding -- as the region saw yet again over the weekend -- and more droughts.

There's no clear link between global warming and tornadoes. But in terms of twisters that upend homes and lives, a review published in October in the journal Nature adds insight.

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