Tornado Alley is shifting eastward into the Mid-South

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When you think of tornadoes, you probably think of Oklahoma and Texas. New research suggests that Tornado Alley as we know it is moving east. Two consecutive Sundays have produced massive tornadoes through parts of the Deep South. This area, known to meteorologists as Dixie Alley, is a known hot spot for severe weather. However, a recent study suggests that Dixie Alley is surpassing traditional Tornado Alley in terms of number of tornadoes and frequency of events. One of the scientists from that study says the shift in activity likely isn’t noticeable to the average person.

“The changes we’ve seen for an individual probably don’t mean a whole lot,” says Dr. Harold Brooks, senior research scientist at the National Severe Storms Laboratory in Norman, Oklahoma. “Over the course of this 40 year period, we’re talking about changes of maybe 10 percent, so that if an event happened in your location once every 10 years, it’s now happening once every 11 years or once every 9 years.”

Brooks says the change is meteorological in nature, but questions remain as the exact cause of this shift.

“One of the real big questions is what is actually going on to cause this shift?” Brooks asks. “And we actually, honestly don’t know the answer. It’s very tempting to believe that it is related to global warming, just because of the timing that it’s occurred over, and some other predictions that have been made and observations that have been made.”

Tornadoes in the Mid-South tend to be more deadly, due in large part to much higher population densities. Minimizing storm deaths is a difficult issue to tackle in the Southeast.

Brooks states, “That’s perhaps the single, biggest problem that we have to try to figure out a way to solve, is getting adequate shelter for people particularly in rural areas of the Southeast, because the population densities, yeah they’re a lot higher than they are in the Plains, but it still isn’t so high that, well where are you going to put a shelter where people can go to it quickly and get there and have enough resources available to you to actually make it worthwhile to build the shelter.”

Brooks notes that data does not suggest an increase in activity in the Carolina Piedmont region, another tornado hot spot, and that is good news for us in Central North Carolina.

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