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Tornado intensity climbs in the United States

Since 1994, twisters have left bigger paths of destruction

2:12pm, December 13, 2013

DAMAGE PATH  By analyzing the length and width of tornadoes' destructive paths, scientists have found that the intensity of twisters in the United States has gone up since 1994. 

SAN FRANCISCO —Tornadoes are getting stronger.

Over the last two decades, the intensity of twisters pummeling the United States has crept up, geographer James Elsner of Florida State University in Tallahassee reported at the American Geophysical Union’s fall meeting on December 10.

The National Weather Service ranks tornado intensity using the Enhanced Fujita Scale. The EF Scale lumps the storms into one of six categories based on damage to trees, light poles, buildings and other structures. Scientists assign a rating by looking at photographs of a tornado’s aftermath.

But fitting tornadoes into narrow categories gives scientists only a rough gauge of a tornado’s strength. “We need a continuous estimate of tornado intensity,” Elsner argued.

He and colleagues created such an estimate using a computer analysis that factors in the length and width of a tornado’s path. Then the team tapped into data from the U.S. Storm

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