How Tornado Alley has changed

How Tornado Alley has changed

TEXOMA, Texas (TNN) - We’re starting a week of special weather coverage here at News Channel 6 on Monday night.

We live in the part of the country known as Tornado Alley, which is a hot spot for severe storms and tornadoes. However, recent trends suggest that the tornado hot spot may be shifting a bit.

The traditional Tornado Alley stretches from Texas, north in Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, and the Dakotas. Here, conditions are most favorable for tornadoes from late March into May and early June. During this time of the year, warm, moist air from the Gulf of Mexico, collides with colder air from the north and dry air from the west. This creates big storm systems capable of producing severe storms with large hail, strong winds and tornadoes.

However, some of the deadliest tornadoes to impact the U.S. occur in the southeastern part of the country, in the area known as the Dixie Tornado Alley.

One of the issues is there’s just a lot more people living in the southeast than there are in the plains,” said Allen Gerard, tornado researcher. “They tend to be more evenly distributed across the southeastern states and because of that you have more of a footprint for which tornadoes can cause damage to people’s homes and cause injuries and fatalities.”

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Tornado season is longer the Dixie Alley than in the traditional Tornado Alley and tornadoes also have a tendency to strike there at night.

“The plains tornado risk tends to be more confined to a very specific time year, the late spring months of April, May, and early June and more confined to a particular time of the day, late afternoon into the evening,” said Gerard. “Whereas in the southeast, the risk is much more across the entire year and much more across the entire day.”

Recent studies show that winters are warmer in the southeastern U.S. than they were 50 years ago. This gives storms systems more access to warm moist air from the gulf.

“Because it’s a little warmer in the winter and you’re getting a little more humidity coming back, you just have more days in the southeast that are more favorable,” said Gerard.

Another reason for increasing tornado activity may be from better reports with modern technology such as cell phones, cameras, and social media.

“With doppler radar and with more awareness of a tornado we seem to be seeing an increase in reporting in the southeastern United States,” said Gerard. “It’s kind of a combination of factors that are leading to more awareness and more study of what’s going on in the southeast.”

While tornado activity is increasing in the southeastern U.S., we may be seeing a decline in the traditional Tornado Alley.

“There’s been a little bit of less favorable of an environment for tornadoes in the plains than there was 40 years ago,” said Gerard. “These are changes we’re seeing begin to evolve.”

The polar regions of the world are not as cold as they once were. This may be leading to a weaker jet stream by mid to late May, creating this more summer like weather.

“What is being seen is that in the spring months, there is a little bit more of a quicker transition to more of a summer time type atmosphere with more subsiding air, more sinking air in the atmosphere,” said Gerard. “It’s leading to a fewer number of days that are really favorable for severe weather.”

The biggest takeaway from the research is that both the traditional and Dixie Tornado Alleys are at a major risk for tornadoes especially during the spring season.

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