A new study looking at the last 59 years of tornadoes in the United States reveals something surprising: We have fewer tornadoes today than we used to. But those tornadoes are hitting in a terrifying new way.

Harold Brooks, atmospheric scientist at NOAA (who you may also remember from his io9 Q&A on tornado season) is the lead author of the study, published today in Science. Starting at around 1980, the total number of tornadoes in a year starts to trend downward — at the same time, however, the days when multiple tornadoes struck started to trend upwards.

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Though researchers aren't ready to determine a cause for the shift, they do note that it could cause some serious changes in how we prepare for the damage of tornado season in the future.

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You can check out the whole paper right here.

Top image: NOAA Legacy Photo; OAR/ERL/Wave Propagation Laboratory

Graph: Harold Brooks, NOAA / Science

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