A massive tornado hit areas of east New Orleans late Tuesday morning, tearing a destructive path across a part of the city that included areas previously ravaged by Hurricane Katrina.
Severe storms in the Southeast throughout the morning eventually spawned a bloom of tornadoes in southern Louisiana. The National Weather Service confirmed that at least three had touched down in the region. It also issued a tornado watch, to be in effect until 5 p.m. CST.
The National Weather Service told the Associated Press that it had unconfirmed reports of injuries but did not immediately know if there were any deaths in the region. Louisiana’s governor has declared a state of emergency.
The New Orleans Times-Picayune reported that more than 10,000 homes and businesses had lost power in Southeastern Louisiana, and the Weather Channel reported ping-pong-sized hail elsewhere in Louisiana.
Local media and residents quickly started reporting images of the damage, particularly in Eastern New Orleans. Rescue efforts are underway for people trapped beneath debris.
NASA reported that one of its assembly facilities had been damaged but said that all its staff were accounted for.
While the number of tornadoes has remained consistent, the number of big outbreak days has increased in recent years. Last year, Eric Holthaus wrote that “tornado season, on the whole, is becoming more variable.” He attributed this to climate change, writing:
Global warming may be contributing to this, by providing additional energy and moisture to storm systems capable of producing tornadoes by enhancing the overall atmospheric evaporation rate. At the same time, wind shear, a necessary component of tornado formation, may be declining overall.
The result is an increase in “bunchiness”—increased year-to-year tornado variability along with greater odds for occasional days … when all the ingredients come together to create tragic scenarios.
It is always hard to attribute a storm directly to climate change. But it’s safe to say the situation in New Orleans right now certainly does not look good.