Long term temporal trends in synoptic-scale weather conditions favoring significant tornado occurrence over the central United States

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2023-02-22
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PLOS
Abstract

We perform a statistical climatological study of the synoptic- to meso-scale weather conditions favoring significant tornado occurrence to empirically investigate the existence of long term temporal trends. To identify environments that favor tornadoes, we apply an empirical orthogonal function (EOF) analysis to temperature, relative humidity, and winds from the Modern-Era Retrospective analysis for Research and Applications Version 2 (MERRA-2) dataset. We consider MERRA-2 data and tornado data from 1980 to 2017 over four adjacent study regions that span the Central, Midwestern, and Southeastern United States. To identify which EOFs are related to significant tornado occurrence, we fit two separate groups of logistic regression models. The first group (LEOF models) estimates the probability of occurrence of a significant tornado day (EF2-EF5) within each region. The second group (IEOF models) classifies the intensity of tornadic days either as strong (EF3-EF5) or weak (EF1-EF2). When compared to approaches using proxies such as convective available potential energy, our EOF approach is advantageous for two main reasons: first, the EOF approach allows for the discovery of important synoptic- to mesoscale variables previously not considered in the tornado science literature; second, proxy-based analyses may not capture important aspects of three-dimensional atmospheric conditions represented by the EOFs. Indeed, one of our main novel findings is the importance of a stratospheric forcing mode on occurrence of significant tornadoes. Other important novel findings are the existence of long-term temporal trends in the stratospheric forcing mode, in a dry line mode, and in an ageostrophic circulation mode related to the jet stream configuration. A relative risk analysis also indicates that changes in stratospheric forcings are partially or completely offsetting increased tornado risk associated with the dry line mode, except in the eastern Midwest region where tornado risk is increasing.

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Tornadoes
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