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Breakdown: Why tornado alley has shifted to the southeast

Published: Apr. 18, 2022 at 2:27 PM CDT|Updated: Apr. 18, 2022 at 2:36 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Tornadoes form from thunderstorms that can develop into tornadic storms if the right ingredients are present in the atmosphere. Tornadoes can develop when the right combination of warm moisture laden air and wind collide with cold dry air. These ingredients can cause rotating thunderstorms that can be capable of spinning off a tornado. Thunderstorms capable of spinning off tornadoes usually develop along and ahead of fronts, where warm and cold air masses meet and a strong jet stream.

Recent studies reveal that tornadoes are getting more frequent, intense and more likely to come in clusters. The strongest tornadoes and longest-lasting tornadoes tend to come from supercell storms which are powerful rotating thunderstorms.

Many scientist believe that these more intense and longer-lasting tornadoes are a result of climate change.

The good news is that although there has been an increase in tornadoes per capita, the death toll from tornadoes has dropped in the latter half of the past 100 years. Even those these outbreaks have been devastating to say the least, science and technology are saving lives at a faster rate than storms are killing people.

Meteorologist can now anticipate and forecast areas where tornadoes may develop. NOAA’s Storm Prediction Center website, you’ll see eight-day outlooks now. That’s based on scientific knowledge and technology able to specify where conditions will be conducive to tornadic activity.

People have access to multiple devices that can alert you to inclement weather, like the First Alert Weather App and also more people know what to do and where to go when warnings are issued and more homes have rooms that are able to withstand a tornado. Social media also plays a huge role in getting the word out.

In the southeast, severe storms have been more frequent and intense. Research has found that the center of tornado activity has shifted to the southeast with the center around Alabama. Of course Oklahoma still sees tornadoes but the center of “tornado alley” has shifted to the southeast.

The research also found a decrease in both the total number of tornadoes and days with tornadoes in the traditional Tornado Alley in the central plains. On the other hand an increase in tornado numbers in the southeast and extending from Mississippi through Tennessee and Kentucky into southern Indiana.

The reason for the decline in the Great Plains, is due to drier air in the western boundary of traditional Tornado Alley and as tornado risk is declining in Oklahoma the wildfire risk is increasing. Research also suggests that the dry line between the wetter Eastern U.S. and the drier Western U.S., in the past sat around the 100th meridian, has moved eastward by approximately 140 miles since the late 1800s. The dry line can be a boundary where storms can develop, the rising of warm air and sinking of colder air that can fuel storms. Widespread droughts to the west and southwest appear to have shifted this pattern further east. The Plains are also drier than they once were, which is limiting the number of historic tornadoes seen in the past.

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