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'Tornado Alley' Shifting East, Study Suggests

a tornado on the ground in a field

Tornado spins beneath a supercell thunderstorm as it moves across a field in Ensign, Kansas. (John Sirlin/Dreamstime.com)

By    |   Wednesday, 17 October 2018 11:02 AM

The infamous "Tornado Alley" may be shifting to the Midwest and Southeast, a study published Wednesday in the Nature partner journal, Climate and Atmospheric Science, suggested.

Researchers monitored data over four decades and found that tornado frequency had decreased in parts of the central and southern Great Plains, which are traditionally associated with Tornado Alley, but increased over a large swath of the Midwest and Southeast.

The shift in tornado activity and environments mean that, while Tornado Alley continues to be the U.S.'s top zone for tornados, other areas are catching up.

This includes areas such as the so-called Dixie Alley, which comprises the lower Mississippi Valley region, and portions of Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Tennessee and Kentucky.

"Regions in the Southeast and Midwest are closing the gap when it comes to the number of tornado reports," said meteorology professor Victor Gensini of Northern Illinois University, who co-authored the study.

"It's not that Texas and Oklahoma do not get tornadoes," he continued. "They're still the number one location in terms of tornado frequency, but the trend in many locations is down over the past 40 years."

To arrive at these findings, Gensini and co-author Harold Brooks of NOAA's National Severe Storms Laboratory in Norman, Oklahoma, consulted tornado reports from 1979 to 2017, then investigated the regional trends of tornado-environment formation over the same period by consulting an index known as the Significant Tornado Parameter (STP).

Both methods showed an uptick in tornado activity over towards the east, but a separate study published in 2016 also presented similar findings.

Researchers from Purdue University analyzed tornado activity between 1954 and 2013 and noticed a possible shift away from Tornado Alley and toward the deep South and Dixie Alley.

The study highlights the severity that future tornados could present in terms of exposure, damage and casualty.

From a financial standpoint, the severe storms accompanying tornadoes cause an average of $5.4 billion of damage each year across the U.S.

Gensini noted that their findings could "be taken into consideration when adopting building codes, identifying potentially impacted community assets, creating awareness and making emergency preparations."

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"Tornado Alley," the infamous area of the United States where severe storms are more common, may be shifting east, according to a new study.
tornado, alley, shifting, study
Wednesday, 17 October 2018 11:02 AM
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