Experts say El Nino may cut down on tornado outbreaks this spring

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OKLAHOMA CITY, OK (KTVI) - As the National Tornado Summit winds down in Oklahoma City, people were talking about the impact of this winter’s record El Nino in the Pacific.  An El Nino is when the water of the central Pacific becomes unusually warm.  The presence of that warm water can have huge impacts on seasonal weather around the globe.  But one thing it doesn’t do is produce tornadoes.

“El Nino does not cause tornadoes it also does not prevent a single supercell from generating a tornado,” says Kevin Van Leer.  He is a meteorologist and analyst with R-M-S, a leading catastrophe risk modeling company out of California.

His job is to assess long term environmental conditions that could negatively impact his clients.

“What we are trying to provide to them is a tool that takes into account the hazards and the frequency of storms…providing them with a tool to look at the risk in their portfolio.”

Tornadoes and hurricanes are near the top of his list which is why Van Leer is so interested in studying the effects of El Nino on both of them.

Van Leer says it is all about the ingredients, “by altering the position of the jet stream we are changing the ingredients of severe weather activity…potentially seeing reduced activity in the central and southern Plains in the spring and summer.”

At the same time, there is often an increase in severe storm activity from Texas into the Mid-Atlantic States which is exactly what we’ve seen the past couple of months.

The effects of El Nino on hurricanes in the Atlantic are even more dynamic.

“The research has shown over time in an El Nino year…you’ll have a decrease in Atlantic hurricane activity..particularly when looking in the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico.”

That means a lower risk to lives and property along the Gulf Coast and the southeast US Coast.

Van Leer is quick to point out that despite the limiting effects of El Nino on severe weather outbreak, that tornadoes and severe weather can and do still occur.  And it only takes on well placed big tornado to make it a bad year for a community.