More intense and frequent thunderstorms linked to global climate variability

Using isotopes from Texas cave stalactites, scientists in Texas A&M’s College Of Geosciences studied thunderstorm changes in the Southern Great Plains


Research News


Large thunderstorms in the Southern Great Plains of the U.S. are some of the strongest on Earth. In recent years, these storms have increased in frequency and intensity, and new research shows that these shifts are linked to climate variability.

Co-authored by Christopher Maupin, Courtney Schumacher and Brendan Roark, all scientists in Texas A&M University’s College of Geosciences, along with other researchers, the findings were recently published in Nature Geoscience.

In the study, researchers analyzed oxygen isotopes from 30,000-50,000 year old stalactites from Texas caves to understand trends in past thunderstorms and their durations, using radar-based calibration for the region’s rainfall isotopes. They discovered that when storm regimes shift from weakly to strongly organized on millennial timescales, they coincide with well-known, global abrupt climate shifts during the last glacial period, which occurred between about 120,000 and 11,500 years ago.

Through modern-day synoptic analysis, researchers learned that thunderstorms in the Southern Great Plains are strongly related to changes in wind and moisture patterns occurring at a much larger scale. Understanding these changes and various correlations will not only help reconstruct past thunderstorm occurrences, but also help predict future mid-latitude thunderstorm patterns.

“Proxy records are available in the Southern Great Plains within caves,” Maupin said. “There are probably thousands of caves in Southern Great Plains and in southern Texas. Why hasn’t more research occurred in those areas? Cave deposits are so promising as proxies.”

Schumacher said scientists understand modern-day rainfall patterns, and that large storms can deplete isotopes.

“However, we don’t know what will happen in the future, and this work will help predict trends of storms in the future,” she said. “If we can run a climate model for the past which is consistent with cave records, and run that same model moving forward, we can trust its findings more if it matched the cave records versus if they didn’t. Out of two models, if one really matches the cave isotopes then you can trust that one in understanding storm distribution in the future.”Caves Hold Little-Known Climate Records

Maupin, a paleoclimatologist, described the limitations that exist in capturing the true distribution of weather events across time.

“There are really important questions about what has happened in the past regarding big weather events we get through mesoscale convective systems (large storms) versus non-mesoscale (smaller storms) stuff,” Maupin said. “We get so much precipitation from really big storms, and model grids can’t capture big weather events, because the grids themselves are so big. Paleoclimatology helps with organizing past events to develop a proxy record of how they respond to mean climate.”

Maupin collaborated with National Taiwan University to do uranium thorium dating, and discovered that the stalactites and stalagmites were in fact from around the Ice Age.Interdisciplinary Collaboration

Schumacher’s expertise was needed to make connections with various rainfall events that occurred over time. She had experience working with radar data and rain measurements on a global scale.

“Large storms that cover hundreds of miles provide around 50-80% of rain in Texas,” Schumacher said. “In the modern day, these storms have different isotope signatures.”

Maupin’s research is pushing back on outdated principles in the paleo-world, because you have to study how storms get larger and what influences them, he said.

“These thunderstorms are so big that even if most of the rain occurs in Oklahoma, rain in Texas will still carry isotopic signature of these huge storms,” Maupin stated. “You’re fingerprinting these systems despite where they occur, and they don’t have to be super localized to be recognized. Big storms cause depleted isotopic signatures. You can’t explain the variability in stalactites with temperature changes alone.”Research Experience For Aggie Undergraduates

Celia Lorraine McChesney ’16 and Audrey Housson ’16 were two undergraduate researchers involved in this publication, and both learned a great deal through the field work, collaboration, and high-impact learning experience.

“The samples from the caves were used as a tool for high-impact learning in understanding Texas paleoclimate,” Maupin said. “One of the undergraduates started micro-milling the stalactites. I was very fortunate to have access to the College of Geosciences’ resources and to work with these talented undergrads on ground-breaking research.”

McChesney said her experience working on her senior thesis at the lab was “invaluable,” and the research allowed her to travel and go out into the field.

“As an undergraduate research student at Texas A&M, I was proud to be part of one of the first teams to correlate climate change and weather linkages in a paleoclimate record,” Housson said. “This whole experience provided great exposure to the academic world, and made me more confident as a scientist. Now, as a geologist and civil engineer, I am working on heavy civil infrastructure projects like tunnels and dams related to water resources. I love how my career ties back into my undergraduate research where knowing the correlation between climate change and weather helps plan for water resources in the future.”


Funding for this research was provided in part by a Texas A&M University high-impact undergraduate research grant.

From EurekAlert! 

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June 22, 2021 10:19 pm

So they are saying it rainfall increases as it warms well who would have thunk

June 22, 2021 10:43 pm

Large thunderstorms in the Southern Great Plains of the U.S. are some of the strongest on Earth.

I suggest a trip to Africa is in order!

Zig Zag Wanderer
Reply to  Leo Smith
June 23, 2021 1:38 am

Or north Australia

June 22, 2021 10:49 pm

Scientific corruption of another once-great technical university.

Reply to  dk_
June 23, 2021 5:00 am

Can’t make this Senior High Impact Thesis (SHIT) up.

Alexy Scherbakoff
June 22, 2021 11:29 pm

There was a quote about the Bee Gees: ‘meaningless songs with very high voices’.
I think that applies here.

Reply to  Alexy Scherbakoff
June 23, 2021 12:36 pm

Most songs are meaningless.
As Frank Capra once said; If you want to send a message, try Western Union.

Last edited 1 year ago by MarkW
Teddy Lee
June 23, 2021 12:11 am

“Thousands of caves on the Southern Great Plains”. Jobs and funding for ever!

June 23, 2021 12:34 am

The UK is clear evidence that a warming planet brings more intense storms and rainfall.

Reply to  griff
June 23, 2021 5:11 am

You’re funny, and the U.S. represents only 2% of the planet’s surface we’re told repeatably.

Reply to  griff
June 23, 2021 5:15 am

Of course the actual records disagree with what griff wants to believe.

Reply to  griff
June 23, 2021 8:29 am

In a warmer world the temperature differences from equator to the poles decrease, no reason for more intense storms…..

George T
Reply to  Krishna Gans
June 24, 2021 7:03 pm


Climate believer
Reply to  griff
June 23, 2021 12:17 pm

I know how you love facts.

The UK had it’s wettest year in 1903,1385.3mm, (Met office 1862-2021), when CO² was under 300ppm.

In 1877 it was 1346.1mm, winter 468.7mm, in 2020 it was 1336.3, winter 474.4mm.

What is that clear evidence of?

How many people have died in UK storms this century?

The storm of 1703 killed between 8,000 and 15,000 people.

Do you consider yourself reasonable in dishonouring those people by claiming it’s worse now than ever?

Reply to  griff
June 24, 2021 2:30 am

The very basics of climate science is that weather is created by the differences in temperatures verging. The greater the differences between hot and cold, the more intense the weather becomes. With global warming, temperatures at the poles are the most effected as they become warmer, which reduces the overall differences in temperature, thereby, weather becomes calmer as the temperature become more balanced. With global cooling this is reversed, as it creates colder polar regions as ice builds up the solar radiation still warms the equator and the temperature differences create stronger weather.

Reply to  griff
June 24, 2021 11:11 pm

So no droughts then? Bonus! Can’t wait until Southern Ontario is like Bali – actually we can get as hot as Bali in the summer time but it would be great to also be as hot (and green!) as Bali in the wintertime. But I won’t hold my breath waiting for the global climate emergency crisis to have any real noticable affect on climate or the biosphere.

June 23, 2021 12:36 am

On a related note, Moscow has sweltered through its hottest June day for 120 years after the temperature hit 34.7C with even hotter weather expected over the coming days. Russia’s weather service, Roshydromet, blamed climate change for the soaring temperatures.

Reply to  griff
June 23, 2021 5:00 am

Climate change 😉

Reply to  griff
June 23, 2021 5:09 am

Not many jets flying into Moscow 120 years ago. What no airport?

Reply to  griff
June 23, 2021 5:16 am

Once again, every heat wave, no matter how minor, is proof positive that CO2 is going to kill us all.
Cold temperatures are just weather.

Reply to  MarkW
June 23, 2021 8:32 am

In the case of Russia and last week Germany, it’s not CO2, but hot air from Sahara with respective dust in Swizzerland.

Reply to  griff
June 23, 2021 8:13 am

So 120 years ago it was hotter in Moscow! Wow how the planet has cooled.

Reply to  griff
June 23, 2021 8:36 am
Reply to  griff
June 23, 2021 9:33 am

Interesting since the AGW religion states that CO2 affects low temperatures, primarily at night and primarily in the winter.

Reply to  griff
June 23, 2021 9:19 pm

Utter bollox Griff.
The killer summer was 2010, because older people were used to a cooler wetter period which was current in the 1970-80s.

120yrs ago Russia did not have accurate enough temperature gauges to measure anything, and Moscow was full of wooden houses, with a lower population while today it’s packed with concrete, tarmac and new style high rises!

The hottest summer in Moscow was in 1812 when Russians set fire to the city to ensure napoleon was starved out in the cold winter that followed!

In the 1920-30s Moscow was going thru another warm period.

Have you ever been to Moscow or to Russia griff you twat!

What makes more news is temperatures in Estonia & Finland over the last week, not Moscow, where it is fully admitted, a hot tropical airstream which was last week present over much of central & southern Europe moved north, complete with saharan sand (or so what was what covered my car)!

June 23, 2021 12:58 am

What is wrong with stronger and more frequent thunderstorms? More water and more nitrogen in the soil. Rain and surface runoff results to faster weathering and erosion orecosys more micro-nutrients. Add to it higher concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and it is just perfect for a dynamic and ecosystem.

June 23, 2021 1:12 am

Meanwhile back in the real world, violent tornadoes in the US have declined sharply since the global cooling of the 1970s:

Stephen W
June 23, 2021 1:29 am

Climate variability.
That’s the new meme.

Because now we know the climate isn’t changing, the next step is to label it climate variability, to make it even harder to disprove. Where every record outside the last 50-100 years of record is apparently unexpected.

“Yeah, but the climate is more VARIABLE now.. “

Rich Davis
Reply to  Stephen W
June 23, 2021 3:37 pm

All this variability, so scary! We demand conformity.

June 23, 2021 2:09 am

Absolute any conceivable weather event or non event could be attributed to the infinitely flexible term “global climate variability”.

(Hidden implication – before the industrial revolution climate was static like the garden of Eden.)

As the Soothsayer from the Asterix and Obelix comic book would have said:

“This I had also foreseen”

June 23, 2021 2:18 am


“We’ll all be rooned,” said Hanrahan,
In accents most forlorn,
Outside the church, ere Mass began,
One frosty Sunday morn.
The congregation stood about,
Coat-collars to the ears,
And talked of stock, and crops, and drought,
As it had done for years.
“It’s lookin’ crook,” said Daniel Croke;
“Bedad, it’s cruke, me lad,
For never since the banks went broke
Has seasons been so bad.”
“It’s dry, all right,” said young O’Neil,
With which astute remark
He squatted down upon his heel
And chewed a piece of bark.
And so around the chorus ran
“It’s keepin’ dry, no doubt.”
“We’ll all be rooned,” said Hanrahan,
“Before the year is out.
“The crops are done; ye’ll have your work
To save one bag of grain;
From here way out to Back-o’-Bourke
They’re singin’ out for rain.
“They’re singin’ out for rain,” he said,
“And all the tanks are dry.”
The congregation scratched its head,
And gazed around the sky.
“There won’t be grass, in any case,
Enough to feed an ass;
There’s not a blade on Casey’s place
As I came down to Mass.”
“If rain don’t come this month,” said Dan,
And cleared his throat to speak–
“We’ll all be rooned,” said Hanrahan,
“If rain don’t come this week.”
A heavy silence seemed to steal
On all at this remark;
And each man squatted on his heel,
And chewed a piece of bark.
“We want a inch of rain, we do,”
O’Neil observed at last;
But Croke “maintained” we wanted two
To put the danger past.
“If we don’t get three inches, man,
Or four to break this drought,
We’ll all be rooned,” said Hanrahan,
“Before the year is out.”
In God’s good time down came the rain;
And all the afternoon
On iron roof and window-pane
It drummed a homely tune.
And through the night it pattered still,
And lightsome, gladsome elves
On dripping spout and window-sill
Kept talking to themselves.
It pelted, pelted all day long,
A-singing at its work,
Till every heart took up the song
Way out to Back-o’Bourke.
And every creek a banker ran,
And dams filled overtop;
“We’ll all be rooned,” said Hanrahan,
“If this rain doesn’t stop.”
And stop it did, in God’s good time;
And spring came in to fold
A mantle o’er the hills sublime
Of green and pink and gold.
And days went by on dancing feet,
With harvest-hopes immense,
And laughing eyes beheld the wheat
Nid-nodding o’er the fence.
And, oh, the smiles on every face,
As happy lad and lass
Through grass knee-deep on Casey’s place
Went riding down to Mass.
While round the church in clothes genteel
Discoursed the men of mark,
And each man squatted on his heel,
And chewed his piece of bark.
“There’ll be bush-fires for sure, me man,
There will, without a doubt;
We’ll all be rooned,” said Hanrahan,
“Before the year is out.”

John O’Brien

John Garrett
June 23, 2021 3:37 am

I smell the unmistakeable odor of a large heap of male cow manure.

June 23, 2021 4:57 am

I think they’re just making up this stuff.

There is no way that analyzing stalactites and stalagmites in limestone caverns can tell anyone about the frequency or intensity of individual thunderstorm events.

Sorry – this is just bullshit masquerading as science.

Frank from NoVA
June 23, 2021 5:09 am

I was always taught that the first step in data analysis was to graph the data. Would have been nice of them to provide one before yammering on about a supposed link to recent “climate variability”.

Reply to  Frank from NoVA
June 23, 2021 5:49 am

Climate Science doesn’t need old fashioned stuff like graphs or even data, they just know it’s true!


Dave Fair
Reply to  Frank from NoVA
June 23, 2021 9:52 am

I didn’t see “climate variability” described in any meaningful way.

Insufficiently Sensitive
June 23, 2021 6:50 am

News articles which rely on extended quotes from eager orators could convey more useful information if reporters had the literary ability to condense the essential story into half the paragraphs we have to wade through in this one.

Paul S.
Reply to  Insufficiently Sensitive
June 23, 2021 7:30 am

I kept reading to learn what was in those caves that led them to believe in the increased storminess, but they never said. Not sure what the science was

Reply to  Paul S.
June 23, 2021 9:06 am

Why should they tell you their reasoning, when your only goal is to find something wrong with it?

Rich Davis
Reply to  MarkW
June 23, 2021 3:44 pm

They have 25 years invested in this and all you want to do is poke holes in it.

Reply to  Paul S.
June 23, 2021 9:35 am

Oh, I can infer their chain of reasoning and experimentation. High thunderstorm activity results in a change in the oxygen isotope ratio in the rainwater, which, when the water percolates down to the cave, results in a corresponding oxygen isotope ratio in the deposited mineral layer, which can be determined by micro-milling of a stalactite and running each layer through a mass spectrometer.

What I can also see is a plethora of places where their assumptions could be false (including the very basis of the hypothesis – one would have to go through the papers that supposedly prove the changed isotope ratio). There is another plethora of places where their methodology can be biased, incorrect, or just plain unusable. Even if all of the above were correct – any conclusions would be based on an extremely low resolution signal, and one with a high time variability.

Thomas Gasloli
June 23, 2021 7:30 am

“If we can run a climate model for the past which is consistent with the cave records, and run that same model moving forward, we can trust its finding…”

A model that can hindcast can not necessarily forecast. This fallacy has been the plague of “Climate Science”; all of their models hindcast, none of them forecast.

A model will not forecast until they understand the process and can model it. As long as they refuse to focus the science on water instead of CO2, all models will fail to forecast.

Jim Masterson
Reply to  Thomas Gasloli
June 23, 2021 1:49 pm

Chaotic systems have a “horizon of predictability.” You can’t predict chaotic systems beyond that horizon. Weather models (and so-called climate models which are weather models run past their expiration dates) are modeling a non-linear chaotic system. Even if you know the exact physical formulas/differential equations, they will stop predicting reliably once that horizon of predictability is crossed. Apparently, for weather models, that horizon is two weeks!

Rich Davis
Reply to  Thomas Gasloli
June 23, 2021 3:57 pm

The goal is to curve fit the data with a model that predicts Thermageddon when CO2 rises.

Nick Schroeder
June 23, 2021 7:44 am

Isotopes from stalactites.

More Ouija boards, Tarot cards, tea leaves and Magic 8 balls.

Gordon A. Dressler
June 23, 2021 8:06 am

Added this to my ever-growing list of claimed “climate-induced” problems.

Not that the list means anything, mind you.

June 23, 2021 8:34 am

Good to know the climate is changing as it always has. The research in caves is interesting and looks like honest research except for the obligatory claim of more violent weather.

Bruce Cobb
June 23, 2021 9:01 am

“Climate variability” is the new weather. I think what we have here instead is “language variability”. Control the message and you control everything.

Dave Fair
Reply to  Bruce Cobb
June 23, 2021 9:57 am

“Climate variability” is a trivially true statement. Here it is used to imply bad stuff is going to happen. It could equally be used to imply good stuff is going to happen.

June 23, 2021 9:13 am

There is the matter that most of the damage from thunderstorms is from tornadoes of strength F2/EF2 or stronger, and from severe-force non-tornado winds. These are generally dependent on high speed winds in the upper half of the troposphere, and those depend mostly on horizontal temperature gradients. The Arctic is warming more than the tropics, which means these upper level winds that are necessary for most thunderstorm damage are weakening. The record of incidence rate of tornadoes of strength F2/EF2 and stronger shows a slight downward trend, which means a trend of thunderstorms getting milder in terms of destructive winds is outweighing a trend of thunderstorms getting more numerous or more intense by other measures (such as rainfall or lightning). Something else to consider is manmade factors affecting thunderstorms other than increase of greenhouse gases, such as farm irrigation and increased density of water-vaporizing crops such as tassels on ears of corn, which contributed to the destructive derecho in Iowa last year. Corn productivity has been increasing to such an extent that the US set yet another record corn harvest last year despite the damage from the derecho that destroyed a lot of corn crop in Iowa.

June 23, 2021 10:57 pm

“and the research allowed her to travel and go out into the field”

The true impetus for this “study”.

Matthew Sykes
June 24, 2021 1:39 am

Why do you need a 50,000 year stalactite record to analyse the last 50 years of a country that has excellent data?

For a start it is very likely to be contaminated by many factors, and secondly, the resolution is way out!

You might as well use the wear on your front porch to measure how tall your children are!

Matthew Sykes
Reply to  Matthew Sykes
June 24, 2021 1:40 am

Porch of a house that is a few hundred years old of course. We have a lot of those here.

June 24, 2021 3:27 am

“As an undergraduate research student at Texas A&M, I was proud to be part of one of the first teams to correlate climate change and weather linkages in a paleoclimate record,” Housson said. “

Strong confirmation bias coupled with gross assumptions that a few cave deposits make an accurate proxy…

Highly intermittent rainfall in arid country where rainfall may be insufficient to increase underground waterflows allegedly make an accurate record for measuring thunderstorms…

Just assume the proxy is valid and ‘Hallelujah!’ climate change proof… Yeah, right.

Jim Clarke
June 24, 2021 4:51 am

I read this article using ‘high-impact’ reading, with a grant from the High Impact Reading Center of the University of East Caledonia. This has enabled me to determine that man-made climate change was a ‘given’ and that the data from the caves was going to be tied into the man-made climate change narrative no matter what that data was. “I am grateful to the brilliant people at the High Impact Reading Center for helping me learn to read with such intense clarity!”

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