As climate change advances, we're seeing devastating impacts in the United States and globally. For example, a cluster of deadly tornadoes hit Midwestern and Southern states on a surprisingly warm December night.
One of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Chiefs, Deanne Criswell, calls this the "new normal" as the climate crisis continues.
During CNN’s “State of the Union,” Criswell gave an update on the federal urban search-and-rescue efforts in Kentucky, one of six states touched by the destructive weather. The team is helping local rescue teams with ongoing efforts to rescue those trapped in the rubble while FEMA assists the American Red Cross with short-term shelters and long-term assistance.
So far, a dozen have been found dead.
However, Criswell said this is still a search-and-rescue effort, not recovery:
"There is still hope and we should continue to try to find as many people as we can."
She explained this particular phenomenon as one of greater impact than we've seen before:
“You know, I think it’s incredibly unusual."
"We do see tornadoes in December, that part is not unusual."
"But at this magnitude, I don’t think we have ever seen one this late in the year."
“But it’s also historic. Even the severity and the amount of time this tornado or these tornadoes spent on the ground is unprecedented.”
Normally, tornados dissipate quickly after forming.
In this case, strong winds prevented the twisters from dispelling due to the storm on Friday night. The winds caused the tornados to travel over 200 miles at over 50 miles per hour.
About 1,200 tornadoes touch down in the U.S. yearly, according to the NOAA National Severe Storms Laboratory. This is higher than any other country that experiences tornados.
Even though scientists are still trying to figure out if human activity is resulting in higher frequency and intensity of tornados, Criswell says this is the "new normal" and we should prepare for that.
“This is going to be our new normal."
"And the effects that we’re seeing from climate change are the crisis of our generation,."
“We’re taking a lot of efforts at FEMA to work with communities to help reduce the impacts that we’re seeing from these severe weather events and help to develop systemwide projects that can help protect communities.”
“And so we will continue to work on helping reduce the impacts, but we’re also prepared to respond to any community that gets impacted by one of these severe events.”
Kentucky was the worst hit of the states to be effected.
Democratic Governor of Kentucky Andy Beshear said:
"This will be, I believe, the deadliest tornado system to ever run through Kentucky."
Beshear told CNN they confirmed over 80 people have been lost to the devastation. The death toll is estimated to be over 100 people.
“I’ve got towns that are gone, that just, I mean gone."
"My dad’s hometown ― half of it isn’t standing."
"It's hard to describe."
"I know people can see the visuals but that goes on for 12 blocks or more in some of these places."
The amount of people missing from the 2,700 population of Dawson Springs “was about eight pages single-spaced," Beshear said.
"And it’s going to take us time."
"I mean, you think you go door-to-door to check on people and see if they’re OK."
“There are no doors."
"The question is, is somebody in the rubble of thousands upon thousands of structures? I mean, it is devastating.”
Jason Furtado, a professor with the University of Oklahoma School of Meteorology, told Huffpost the rise in temperature, moisture and wind shear is causing tornado alley—the area known to have the most tornado activity—is shifting eastward from Kansas-Oklahoma area to the Mississippi River Valley and Ohio River Valley areas.
Our thoughts go out to all of those who were and continue to be affected by this horrific event.