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"Tornado Alley" Is Spreading—These Areas Are Now at Risk

Twisters are slowly becoming a year-round natural disaster.

Mother Nature is rarely predictable. While certain regions in the U.S. are known for specific natural disasters (for example, hurricanes are prevalent in the Southeast while earthquakes are common in California), a new study reveals a geographical shift in weather patterns that could be pushing tornado activity to states that were once considered safe of twisters.

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Tornados in the eastern part of the country increased by 12 percent between 1986 and 2020, according to a study published in the Journal of Applied Meteorology and Climatology. In that 35-year span, over 10,500 tornadoes occurred east of the original "Tornado Alley."

"Tornado Alley" refers to an "area of the U.S. where there is a high potential for tornado development," per AccuWeather senior meteorologist Dan Kottlowksi.

Historically, this nickname belonged to the Central Plains, which encompasses much of northern Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, eastern Colorado, and parts of Iowa.

"This region is most vulnerable to tornado development because contrasting air masses frequently collide to produce strong and violent thunderstorms, which in turn, set the stage for tornado development," explains AccuWeather.

However, it appears the flatlands are passing the baton to their eastern neighbors, which are now considered "the greatest tornado threat."

In the study, a map from 1986 to 2020 shows "a corridor of increased tornadoes extended from the lower Ohio Valley to the Deep South and westward to Oklahoma."

More specifically, tornadogenesis peaked in Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama, and south Tennessee. Additionally, states along the Eastern Seaboard, such as North Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania, experienced stronger tornadoes than typical for the area.

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As the "Tornado Alley" shifts eastward, experts also warn that "tornado season" is no longer bound to just summer. In fact, there was a 37 percent decrease in summer tornadoes from 1986 to 2020 than the previous 35-year period.

Now, meteorologists are seeing a vast increase in fall tornadoes (80 percent) and winter tornadoes (102 percent) in the southeast. Parts of mid-Mississippi, lower Ohio valleys, and the Deep South have also witnessed a "maximum" of spring tornadoes.

All of this is to say that twisters can form almost anywhere with the right meteorological conditions—even in colder weather. Although, some experts argue that climate change is at the root of the tornadogenesis shift.

"We can't in any way call one tornado something that's attached to climate change, but we can say the pattern of which things are increasing and getting stronger, that likely is related to a warming world," reported CBS News senior weather producer David Parkinson.

Emily Weaver
Emily is a NYC-based freelance entertainment and lifestyle writer — though, she’ll never pass up the opportunity to talk about women’s health and sports (she thrives during the Olympics). Read more
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