The pathway to Oz has been open a lot this spring. Tornadoes have pummeled much of the U.S. Southeast and Midwest, with many more victims than the Wicked Witch of the East. 2011 is already one of the deadliest tornado seasons in U.S. history.
Even meteorologists are taken aback. Nearly 1,500 tornadoes have killed at least 536 people, notably in Alabama in April and Joplin, Mo., in May. The last year this many Americans died from tornadoes, Franklin Roosevelt was president.
Many have tried to link this outbreak to climate change, a connection that may exist but simply can’t be drawn yet given the limited historical record for tornadoes.
Disaster rubberneckers would do better to step back and put the 2011 toll in greater context. For one thing, tornado death rates have dropped dramatically in the past century, thanks to radar and other warning technologies. Just installing a nationwide Doppler radar system in 1988 meant that tornado deaths dropped by 4