Biden and Company Misleadingly Link Deadly Tornado Outbreak to Climate Change

December 17, 2021 Updated: December 21, 2021


In the aftermath of the terrible and deadly multiple tornado strikes across Arkansas, Illinois, Kentucky, Missouri, and Tennessee on Dec. 10, President Joe Biden and those on his climate team wasted no time in politicizing the tragedy, linking the recent tornado disaster to climate change.

In his Dec. 11 media briefing discussing the tragedy, Biden said he was directing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to try to find any links between climate change and the tornado outbreak, because “the intensity of the weather across the board has some impact as a consequence of the warming of the planet and the climate change.”

Deanne Criswell, Biden’s administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), emphatically placed the blame for the December tornadoes squarely on climate change.

“This is going to be our new normal,” Criswell announced on CNN’s State of the Union. “The effects that we’re seeing of climate change are the crisis of our generation. … At this magnitude, I don’t think we’ve ever seen one this late in the year.”

Biden and Criswell are simply wrong.

The U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) (pdf) has found no evidence indicating climate change is causing tornadoes to become more frequent or more powerful, noting, “There is low confidence in observed trends in small spatial-scale phenomena such as tornadoes.”

It would be surprising if the IPCC concluded otherwise, because the vast majority of the world’s tornadoes develop in the United States, and data conclusively show the number of strong tornadoes, F3 or higher, has dramatically declined in the United States over the past 50 years, as shown in the figure below. Indeed, the top five deadliest tornadoes in America all occurred from 1840 to 1936, when the Earth was cooler. The March 18, 1925, Tri-State F5 Tornado registered as the deadliest tornado outbreak in U.S. history, killing 695 people as it tore a wide swath through Missouri, Illinois, and Indiana.

US tornado graph
(Courtesy Heartland Institute)

From 2017 to 2018, the United States set a record for the longest period in history without a tornado death. The nation also went 306 days in 2017 and 2018 without experiencing an F3 or stronger tornado, setting a record for the longest such period in recorded history. Interestingly, the two years that set the record for the lowest number of tornadoes, 2014 and 2018, occurred in the past decade, which climate alarmists have repeatedly claimed to be the hottest on record. Even counting the recent December tornadoes, the number of tornadoes recorded in 2021 is below average.

For Criswell to claim “at this magnitude, I don’t think we have ever seen one this late in the year,” displays a woeful, possibly willful, ignorance on her part, intended to gin up support for Biden’s climate agenda in Congress and among the public at large rather than reflect the truth.

In 2015—just six years ago—on Dec. 26, 27, and 28, a weather front produced multiple tornadoes across the South, centered mostly in Texas. On Dec. 26 alone, 32 tornadoes of various strengths struck Texas. One tornado, an EF4, struck very near my home in Rowlett, Texas, destroying more than 400 homes and 22 businesses, injuring more than 300 people, and killing 10. On Dec. 5, 1953, when the Earth was entering a cooling period, an F5 tornado devastated Vicksburg, Mississippi, killing 38. On Dec. 18, 1957, an F5 tornado struck Sunfield, Illinois, at the beginning of a three-day series of tornado strikes across the South and Midwest.

Biden may be excused for not remembering a terrible tornado outbreak in late December just six years ago, but there’s no excuse for Criswell’s ignorance. If she does have this limited a grasp on tornado occurrences to which the agency she heads was deeply involved in responding, she’s unqualified to lead FEMA.

Instead of trying to promote their climate change policies by “not letting a disaster go to waste,” to paraphrase Democratic operative Rahm Emanuel’s famous dictum, the Biden administration should do its job of providing comfort and aid to the people suffering in the aftermath of these storms. That’s the humane and moral response we need.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

Sterling Burnett, Ph.D. is a senior fellow on environmental policy at The Heartland Institute, a nonpartisan, nonprofit research center headquartered in Arlington Heights, Illinois.