ST. LOUIS (CBS ST. LOUIS) — An increase in the temperature of the Pacific Ocean may help scientists more accurately predict the location and strength of U.S. tornadoes.

A University of Missouri atmospheric science graduate student, Laurel McCoy, found that higher surface sea temperatures were linked to a 20.3 percent rise in EF-2 to EF-5 strength tornadoes, with 5 being the strongest.

“Differences in sea temperatures influence the route of the jet stream as it passes over the Pacific and, eventually, to the United States,” McCoy told “Tornado-producing storms usually are triggered by, and will follow, the jet stream. This helps explain why we found a rise in the number of tornados and a change in their location when sea temperatures fluctuated.”

McCoy and atmospheric science professor Tony Lupo studied 56,457 tornado-like events between the years of 1950-2011. Their correlation to sea temperature, also found that when the ocean temperature was cooler tornadoes moved from southern states such as Alabama and Tennessee, before heading north into Indiana and Illinois.

Their study utilized a climate phenomenon called the “Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO), which are phases that look at long-term temperature trends which can last nearly three decades. NASA reports that the current PDO is in a “cool” state.

“Now that we know the effects of PDO cool and warm phases, weather forecasters have another tool to predict dangerous storms and inform the public of impending weather conditions,” McCoy told

According to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, tornadoes were responsible for more than 550 deaths in 2011 and more than $28 billion in property damage.


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