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Is Tornado Alley moving?

A look at the science behind tornado activity
Posted at 5:56 AM, Feb 24, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-24 11:26:27-05

TULSA, Okla. — Tornadoes can drop out of the sky just about any time of day and any time of year if conditions are right.

Springtime can be an especially busy time. The frequency and ferocity of twisters hitting our part of the country earned us the nickname: Tornado Alley.

Major tornadoes have hit Kentucky, Alabama, Tennessee, and Mississippi and made headlines in the past few years.

Does this mean Tornado Alley as we know it is no longer?

The term has been used for decades. It refers to the stretch of land from Texas to Nebraska, even up into southern Minnesota, prone to tornado outbreaks.

"If we look back 40 years, we can see that there has been an increase in the number of tornadoes that have occurred in what we might think of the Midsouth," says Harold Brooks, a senior scientist with the Storm Prediction Center. "Take Memphis, Tennessee, and draw a circle 150 miles around it and a little bit of a decrease in the Texas panhandle and western Kansas. Now to put it in perspective, the changes we are talking about are 10 percent over a 40-year period."

So, not a lot of change overall, but what about when we look closer to home?

"So, when you hear that the number of tornadoes may be increasing in other parts of the country and decreasing in this part of the country. The data is not supporting that," says Ed Calianese with the National Weather Service in Tulsa.

Also, Tornado Alley might be too narrow a label.

In reality, tornadic activity stretches from central Texas to the Dakotas and all the way to the Midwest and Appalachians. It even stretches to some parts of the Atlantic seaboard.

Bottom line, no matter where you live, it's always important to stay weather aware and have a safety plan.

"If you go back to 1950 through the records, I'm not sure if there is a 2-year period, back-to-back years, with no significant tornadoes," says Calianese. "So it's pretty unusual not to see a significant tornado. The likelihood of us seeing a significant tornado this year is probably really high as a result of that."

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