Scientists puzzled by year's surge in tornadoes

There have been 1,577 unconfirmed reports of tornadoes across the country so far this year, although that number should shrink after meteorologists review the data and eliminate duplicate reports. But the trend is unmistakable: In all of last year, there were just 1,093 confirmed twisters.

And they have taken lives. So far this year, 118 people have died in tornadoes, including the six killed Wednesday in Kansas and Iowa. That is the biggest tornado death toll in the United States since 1998, when 130 people died. If 2008 matches or exceeds that total — as now appears possible — it will be the deadliest year for tornadoes since 1974, when 361 people were killed.

"It’s a big year," said Harold Brooks, research meteorologist at the National Severe Storms Laboratory in Norman, Okla. "We don’t really know (why)."

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