How warming temperatures are leading to more strong storms
Stronger storms are all too common across the Midwest in all seasons, and the conditions that bring these storms are changing. As the climate shifts, the window for stronger storms appears to be opening more frequently, all year around.
When forecasting strong storms, a big piece of the puzzle comes down to the energy available for the approaching weather system. This is represented by a value known as CAPE (Convective Available Potential Energy) with higher amounts of CAPE lending to greater storm chances. Much of the United States are seeing more instances of high CAPE, opening the potential for more storms.
While there is seasonal variability for severe storms, the risk for these storms to form has increased year-round for much of the country.
The Rockies clearly divide this trend, with less energy available for storms across the west. However, most of this lack of instability is centered over sparsely populated areas. The increase in energy across the eastern Plains affects a great portion of the U.S. population, leading to a jump in impacts from strong storms.
The amount of CAPE available is directly related to temperatures, and both phenomena are seeing an increase in recent decades. Temperatures have roughly risen 3 degrees over the past 50 years in Mid-Missouri, and this small change can have big impacts. Calculating CAPE is a complex mathematical problem, and heat is a large factor. With the general increase in temperatures, this gives greater confidence in more days with higher CAPE, and likewise stronger storms.
An increase in stronger storms has inevitably led to an increased amount of disastrous impacts. Within the last half-century, the frequency of billion-dollar disasters has doubled in the United States, leaving many feeling fatigued. Nowadays we can expect these extreme disasters to occur roughly once every 3 weeks, while this break was as long as 100+ days a few decades ago.
It's important to take care as more storms affect more individuals closer to home, and to be prepared for these storms to come. As temperatures continue to increase in our changing climate more days of strong storms could be ahead.
For more spring weather stories watch our Spring Severe Weather Special at 6:30 and 9:30 p.m. Friday.