Severe weather: April was a doozy of a month - KLTV.com-Tyler, Longview, Jacksonville, Texas | ETX News

Severe weather: April was a doozy of a month

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April proved to be record-setting with the number of tornadoes that were spotted. (Source: NOAA) April proved to be record-setting with the number of tornadoes that were spotted. (Source: NOAA)
Tornadoes ripped through Alabama, decimating many homes and businesses. (Source: WSFA) Tornadoes ripped through Alabama, decimating many homes and businesses. (Source: WSFA)
Residents showed signs of hope and togetherness through their time of loss. (Source: WBRC) Residents showed signs of hope and togetherness through their time of loss. (Source: WBRC)

(RNN) - With the record-breaking April tornadoes, precipitation causing extensive flooding and extreme wildfires and drought, the spring of 2011 took severe weather to the next level.

April's tornado outbreak was one of the worst seen in more than 50 years. More than 750 tornadoes were reported nationwide - far exceeding the average number, 163, usually produced during the month of April.

The severe weather outbreak on April 25-28 alone killed more than 300 people.

April 27 set a one-day record for tornado fatalities since 1950. The tornadoes spawned across the Southeast are currently blamed for 314 deaths, topping the previous record of 310 deaths caused by an April 3, 1974 outbreak in the heartland. Final death statistics are still being gathered.

[SLIDESHOW: Tornado damage across the Southeast]

According to the AP, the death toll for the year is still far behind the record of 794 deaths in 1925. Tornadoes have killed 546 people so far this year: 334 in April, 117 in May, three in June, one in February and one in March.

But it wasn't just tornadoes that swept through the U.S. and broke records. Precipitation levels and scorched acres of land made their mark.

There were 1,300 daily precipitation records broken in April, with 72 locations reporting their wettest day, and five of which set all-time daily records for any month, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

In April, Texas and New Mexico suffered through a 26-day dry spell. These conditions set the stage for the most wildfire activity on record in April since 2000, with more than 1.7 million acres burned.

Overall, the month of April was the seventh-warmest since record keeping began for NOAA in 1979, but not record-setting.

With all this severe weather pummeling the landscape, interest in the effects of climate change and global warming seems to be at an all-time high.

"Any single weather event is driven by a number of factors, from local conditions to global climate patterns and trends. Climate change is one of these," Thomas Karl, director of the National Climatic Data Center said. "It is very likely that large-scale changes in climate, such as increased moisture in the atmosphere and warming temperatures, have influenced, and will continue to influence, many different types of extreme events, such as heavy rainfall, flooding, heat waves and droughts."

Other experts say it is extremely hard to prove that climate change is to blame for the record-setting month.

"We conducted a rapid, preliminary investigation to determine if climate change contributed to the unusually large number of tornadoes experienced in the United States during April 2011. A change in the mean climate properties that are particularly relevant to major destructive tornado events could not be detected for April during the last 30 years," Martin Hoerling with NOAA said in a news release.

According to the National Weather Service (NWS), a strong La Nina could be to blame.

La Nina occurs when very cool air in the North meets warm air in the South, leading to an active and powerful jet stream that can produce severe storms and decimating tornadoes. It is also associated with extremes in temperatures.

"Climate models have said that because of changes in instability and water vapor, severe thunderstorms and tornadoes should increase in the future," said NOAA research meteorologist Harold Brooks. "But it may take another 30 years for the predicted slow increase to be statistically noticeable."

One thing is certain, experts say severe weather systems have always been around and are not going away. Familiarizing yourself with forecasts and safety is the No. 1 way to be prepared during severe weather.

"The extreme weather that the U.S. has experienced in 2011 should cause all Americans, and especially our elected leaders, to think long and hard about the risks posed by climate change, and about what we can do to minimize those risks," Eileen Claussen, president of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, said in a press release. "We need to move past asking whether extreme weather is caused by climate change and start figuring out how to protect ourselves in a future when these events become both more severe and more common."

Copyright 2011 RNN. All rights reserved.

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