My debut novel, Dreaming Alejandro, is a metaphysical science fiction romance nestled in a climate fiction setting. The worst-case scenario of climate change is about to happen, some of it possibly less believable than other parts, but everything that happens climate-wise is within the realm of possibility.
If a tornado happens, there’s a 25% chance it’ll appear in Tornado Alley. It is a large stretch of mostly flat land from Texas to South Dakota. Its climate is perfect for producing tornadoes. There are very few topographical features that doesn’t interrupt the flow of hot air. But it’s not the only place that sees tornadoes. Once in a while, against the odds, they can appear in mountainous terrain. Granted, this usually doesn’t happen due to the colder air at higher elevations. However, the older the mountains, lower and more rounded, the more chance that a tornado will appear.
Of course, the terrain will affect the speed of a tornado. Should a tornado go up a slope, it will slow down like an ice skater doing pirouette crouched close to the surface of the ice.
Should the tornado go down the side of a mountain, a valley, or gully, it will spin faster like the same skater doing a pirouette tall and stretched out. Tornadoes do tend to follow the route of least resistance (e.g. to follow valleys and the edges of plateaus), but they are not guaranteed to so.
Will we see more tornados at higher elevations? The answer is possibly, but it’s complicated. The complications arise because we just don’t have enough data to make a causal connection between climate change and unusual tornado phenomenon. That is not to say that there is no connection. Rather, climate science is complicated on the sunniest of days, even more so when studying chaotic weather patterns. On top of that, tornadoes don’t get the same attention that their bigger siblings, hurricanes, do. While tornadoes are indeed destructive, they pale in comparison to the widespread damage of a hurricane.
What we do know is the number of powerful tornadoes either hasn’t changed in recent years or has decreased. While the total number of tornadoes inside Tornado Alley has gone down, we have seen increased numbers outside: Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Tennessee, Kentucky, and southern Canada. Of the powerful tornadoes that have appeared, their power has increased on average. They also tend to happen in clusters that test the limit of emergency responders and have further economic impacts. This is all been described by climate scientists as unusual, but still in the range of normal.
As global temperatures rise, the amount of warm, moist air rises with it. This combined with an unstable atmosphere and winds at different levels moving in different directions at different speeds, a phenomenon known as wind shear, will produce supercell storms. These are the storms that produce tornadoes. However, supercells do not always create tornadoes. Which supercell storms produce the deadly weather is still a mystery to climate scientists, and the fact of the matter is, as of this writing, we are unable to say that climate change is 100% the reason why more powerful and destructive tornadoes have been appearing. We still don’t know why they appear in the first place.
That being said, within the world of Dreaming Alejandro, I’ve made that logical jump and made the tornado scene absolutely the product of climate change. It’s science fiction. I can do that.
Your Humble Scribe,
Brock T.I. Penner