Waves of hitherto rare midwinter tornadoes swept thesouthern part of America’s heartland yesterday. So far 28people are known to have been killed in Tennessee, 13 inArkansas, 7 in Kentucky and 4 inAlabama. A family of 3 was killed in Arkansas. This is thesecond time this winter tornadoes have erupted in thecentral US. The storms are due to the fact that, after eachblast of cold air passes, a strong flow of warm, humid airdevelops, surging up from the Gulf of Mexico. Then the nextcold wave comes, with explosive results all along the front.In the past, winter tornadoes were rare, but now they’rekillers. What can we expect in the future?

A combination of two factors are causing the current extremeweather violence. First, polar melt on an unprecedentedscale last summer appears to have weakened the northwardflow of ocean currents, resulting in more arctic airdropping farther south faster this winter. Second, the Gulfof Mexico and the Caribbean remain warmer than normal. Thismeans that, as soon as the cold air passes, warm air surgesback, setting the stage for events such as happened yesterday.

It is possible that this summer will be cooler in thearctic, if current flows do not re-establish themselves.While this will mean more unseasonably violent weather inthe short term, over the next few years a more normalpattern will re-emerge, until arctic melt begins again.

Each summer there is a high level of arctic melt, a violentwinter will follow. This process is predicted in many globalwarming models, and is a side-effect of the warming process.

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