While weather experts say climate change could contribute to weather events like Sunday’s tornado warning and heavy hail — an event generally considered an oddity for October — local meteorologists say the possibility is always there in Oklahoma regardless of time of year.
Randy Bowers, meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Norman, said a common saying among meteorologists in the state is that “tornado season is 365 days a year.” While they don’t usually happen in the fall, it’s still very possible, he said.
“Sometimes we’ll go through fall and not see anything as far as severe weather, and other times we end up with kind of an active fall season,” he said. “History has shown that we can certainly have fairly significant tornado events in the fall. One example is back in October of 1998. Another example is October of 2001. Those are two probably more notable tornado events we’ve had in the fall. So not every fall, but again — occasionally, they do happen.”
It’s hard to gauge if climate change is having a significant impact on the weather in Oklahoma based on just a singular event like Sunday, Bowers said — rather, it has to be looked at over a span of time to see what effect climate change is having.
State Climatologist Gary McManus concurred — he said it’s hard to tell from solely Sunday’s storm, but said by taking a look at the year of extreme weather Oklahoma has had, it’s very possible climate change plays a role.
“When you start to look at things in entirety, like last year’s Halloween storm, the deep freeze that we had and the snowfall back in February, it does start to show a pattern,” he said. “Some of it is still being discussed amongst the climate change community. But for instance, when you get these cold air systems that come down, and then they stick around for a long time, that’s one of the things being looked at by the science community. So with that cold air, you know, the jetstream buckles, and the cold air comes flowing down.”
Although it is hard to directly attribute Sunday’s storm to climate change, McManus said if something doesn’t change, severe weather events can become more likely in decades to come. Those will be attributed to climate change, he said.
Events such as droughts, increased temperatures year-round and prolonged times between severe events increasing the severity of each one, McManus said.
“You’ll have spring getting pushed back earlier in the year and the transition to fall and the growing season also being pushed farther into the year,” he said. “So a longer growing season, which would again contribute to more water use by plants, which would again cause more pressure and probably a little bit more intense drought with all those things working in conjunction.”
McManus said the globe is already starting to see bits and pieces of this now. While he said it’s not entirely clear if climate change is causing it — more data needs to be collected on this to come to a solid conclusion — he believes it’s possible.
“We can say that extreme weather, things like precipitation events are increasing, and it’s likely due to the warming of the atmosphere,” McManus said.