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quote:The USA's infamous "Tornado Alley" may be shifting to the east, a new study reports.
Over the past four decades, researchers found that tornadoes have increased over a large swath of the Midwest and Southeast, including what's been referred to as "Dixie Alley."
At the same time, they've decreased in the central and southern Plains, a region traditionally known as Tornado Alley that includes Oklahoma and Texas.
“Regions in the Southeast and Midwest are closing the gap when it comes to the number of tornado reports,” said Northern Illinois University meteorologist Victor Gensini, who led the study.
Although Tornado Alley still remains the top U.S. area for tornadoes, areas to the east are catching up, based on data from 1979 to 2017. This includes portions of Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Tennessee and Kentucky.
“It’s not that Texas and Oklahoma do not get tornadoes,” Gensini said. “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.”
This new research is key for pinpointing future tornado damage in the U.S. "Severe thunderstorms accompanied by tornadoes, hail, and damaging winds cause an average of $5.4 billion of damage each year across the United States, and 10 billion-dollar events are no longer uncommon," the study said.
"Economic losses associated with tornadoes will continue to increase in future years," the study also warned, adding that "the combination of an increase in risk and exposure could lead to a threefold increase in tornado disaster potential."
Overall, about 1,200 tornadoes hit the U.S. yearly, the National Severe Storms Laboratory said.
Tornadoes in the Southeast also tend to be deadlier than those in the Plains, due to several factors such as longer, larger tornado paths, expanding population, more moblie homes, and more nighttime tornadoes. On average, about 40 people die in the nine states that make up the southeastern U.S. each year. Alabama tallies the highest death toll annually with an average of 14, according to data from the Storm Prediction Center.
The Mid-South, an area with Memphis at its center, is a particular worry, as it "has the greatest potential for increased tornado disasters by the end of the century," the study said.
An average of 10 people die from twisters each year combined in Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas, three states that make up most of Tornado Alley. Overall, nationwide, about 73 Americans are killed each year by tornadoes, based on data from 1985-2014.
Study researchers also aren't sure if this eastward shift in tornado reports could be due to natural or human-induced climate change.
The study was published Wednesday in the Nature partner journal Climate and Atmospheric Science.