Research Links El Nino with Tornado Activity in the U.S., 10-21-04

Newswise — A team of researchers, including a University of Missouri-Columbia statistics professor, has found a link between tornadoes and two famous weather phenomena, El Niño and La Niña. Now, the National Science Foundation has awarded a $750,000 grant to Chris Wikle and MU assistant professors Neil Fox and Athanasios Micheas to study short-term storm forecasting, or "nowcasting," to develop a more precise forecasting tool that will help save lives.

Wikle, who also holds degrees in meteorology, has concluded that certain regions of the United States have a decreased chance of tornado activity if an El Niño is occurring in the Pacific Ocean. Likewise, Wikle says, there appears to be an increase in tornadoes during years when a La Niña is present. He says current indications of a mild El Niño next year could indicate fewer tornadoes in several areas of the United States that are prone to tornado activity. El Niño is characterized by unusually warm sea surface temperatures in the tropical Pacific Ocean near the equator, while La Niña is characterized by unusually cold temperatures in the same region.