US regional tornado outbreaks and their links to spring ENSO phases and North Atlantic SST variability

Recent violent and widespread tornado outbreaks in the US, such as occurred in the spring of 2011, have caused devastating societal impact with significant loss of life and property. At present, our capacity to predict US tornado and other severe weather risk does not extend beyond seven days. In an effort to advance our capability for developing a skillful long-range outlook for US tornado outbreaks, here we investigate the spring probability patterns of US regional tornado outbreaks during 1950–2014. We show that the four dominant springtime El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) phases (persistent versus early-terminating El Niño and resurgent versus transitioning La Niña) and the North Atlantic sea surface temperature tripole variability are linked to distinct and significant US regional patterns of outbreak probability. These changes in the probability of outbreaks are shown to be largely consistent with remotely forced regional changes in the large-scale atmospheric processes conducive to tornado outbreaks. An implication of these findings is that the springtime ENSO phases and the North Atlantic SST tripole variability may provide seasonal predictability of US regional tornado outbreaks.

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