New Study Suggests Tornado Alley May Be Shifting East

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ROCKFORD, ILL (WIFR) -- Tornado Alley most likely wasn't a household term until about 20 years ago, following the release of the movie “Twister”, and it's really never at the forefront of many Stateline weather conversations. But a new study published in the Journal of Climate and Atmospheric Science suggests Tornado Alley is on the move, a potentially alarming development here in the Stateline.

Ask any meteorologist, storm chaser, or even casual weather enthusiast what states first come to mind when you mention Tornado Alley, and you'll likely get the same response just about every time; Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, and perhaps Nebraska. But those states might not represent the epicenter of Tornado Alley for much longer.

The lead author of the recently published study, N.I.U. Professor of Atmospheric Science Dr. Victor Gensini says “This is not that Tornado Alley is not there anymore. They still get the highest number of tornadoes every year. However, the trend in those locations is downward. And so were seeing fewer tornadoes than we did 40 years ago in places like Oklahoma, Texas and Kansas.”

On the flipside, Gensini's study shows a significant uptick in tornadic activity in the Mid-South, the Midwest, and even into our neck of the woods.

Gensini adds, “Generally if you're someone who has lived in the Midwest over the last 40 years, your likelihood of getting hit by a tornado has dramatically increased than say, it was in 1980.”

Such a trend is alarming, since the areas with greater risk have seen a boom in development over the past several decades. As a result, future storms are likely to become much more costly, and quite possibly, more deadly.

“As this whole “alley” shifts eastward, that's putting a lot more people at risk. As you get east of the Mississippi River, we have much greater population density, and we know that tornadoes that hit east of the Mississippi are actually much more likely to kill people,” says Gensini.

While the study doesn't say exactly why this shift is occurring, Gensini has two theories. One, that this is a case of natural variability, and that we'll see a shift back west in coming decades. The other theory suggests climate change may have a hand in it..

Gensini claims “This eastward shift is very consistent with what some of the climate models are showing of what our climate will look like in 2050 or 2100 if we continue to emit CO2 at the rate we are currently.”

When asked if we're in greater danger for tornadoes here than in many of our lifetimes, Gensini says it's a fair assessment, adding “Our risk is increasing, and our study has kind of shown that through time, and it doesn't matter the year, or even what the calendar says, for that matter. It could be January, February. You can really never let your guard down”

Gensini and his Co-author Dr. Harold Brooks are considered to be among the most respected minds in the severe weather field. As a result, their study has been widely discussed from coast to coast.