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Central American fires may intensify U.S. tornadoes

Smoky air lowers cloud ceiling and segregates winds

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12:30pm, January 28, 2015
Tornado

WILD WHIRLWIND   Smoke drifting north from Central America may strengthen tornadoes like this one in North America, new research suggests.

Smoke wafting across the Gulf of Mexico from Central America can help spawn intense twisters in and around North America’s Tornado Alley, new research suggests.

Reconstructing the extreme April 27, 2011 tornado outbreak, which sired 122 twisters across the Southeastern United States, researchers found that smoke particles in the atmosphere further enhanced conditions already favorable for intense tornado formation. The smoke lowered the cloud base and increased the difference in wind velocity at different elevations —two important mechanisms in brewing severe twisters —the researchers report in a paper to be published in Geophysical Research Letters.

While more research is needed to quantify how large smoke’s effect is on tornado intensity, tracking soot in the air could one day improve tornado forecasts, says lead author Pablo Saide, an atmospheric scientist

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