As the area commonly known as “Tornado Alley” shifts in the United States, Kentucky is seeing more tornadoes, according to a recent analysis of storm data.
The number of tornadoes in Kentucky increased 84 percent between 2010 and 2019 as compared to the decade before, one analysis by an insurance business found.
QuoteWizard, which is operated by LendingTree and allows consumers to compare prices on insurance, said it used data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Storm Event Database to calculate the increase.
By QuoteWizard’s calculation, Kentucky ranked second in the nation for the greatest percentage increase in tornadoes over the past decade, behind Wyoming, which saw its tornado activity jump by 94 percent during the past decade, according to a news release. Pennsylvania ranked third, with an 83 percent increase.
There were 381 tornadoes reported in the Bluegrass state from 2010 to 2019, as opposed to 207 from 2000 to 2009, according to the release.
“Kansas, Texas and South Dakota have seen significantly fewer tornadoes, meanwhile, Southern states like Louisiana, Kentucky and Mississippi have seen their number of tornadoes increase by 70% or more,” Nick VinZant, a senior research analyst at QuoteWizard said in the release.
WKYT-TV Chief Meteorologist Chris Bailey said he had not seen the QuoteWizard analysis, but that an 84 percent increase “just seems a little dramatic.”
However, he did confirm that “in the past decade, the overall averages for tornadoes in Kentucky have increased.”
He said that’s likely due in part to changes in climate but also attributable to “better capability to survey damage and confirm” tornado activity.
He said that 30 or 40 years ago, people might not have bothered to report “little weak tornadoes” that passed through rural areas without doing much damage. Now, Bailey said, “nothing goes unnoticed.”
Nationally, he said, “the overall pattern” for tornado activity has shifted eastward.
That’s backed up by a study published in August 2016 by the American Meteorological Society.
That study, published in the Journal of Applied Meteorology and Climatology, looked at tornadoes in the U.S. from 1954 to 1983 as compared to the period between 1984 and 2013 and found “a general decrease in tornado activity ... concentrated in Texas/Oklahoma and increases concentrated in Tennessee/Alabama.”
While there was a general decrease in tornadoes over the central plains in summer, there were “substantial increases” in tornadoes “in the region stretching from Mississippi into Indiana” during the autumn months, leading the meteorological researchers to suggest “the emergence of a new maximum center of tornado activity.”
“It is proposed that the new ‘’heart of Tornado Alley’ as based on annual totals (and not on any particular season) is now located in central Tennessee/northern Alabama and not in eastern Oklahoma,” the researchers wrote.
Oklahoma saw a 35 percent decrease in the number of EF1 through EF5 tornadoes during the second 30-year period, while activity in Tennessee increased by 66 percent, according to that study.
Overall, QuoteWizard said tornado activity increased by 11 percent in the U.S. during the decade that ended in 2019 and resulted in $14 billion in damage.
In Central Kentucky for the past several years, “we’ve had abnormally quiet severe weather seasons,” Bailey said.
He pointed out that Kentucky did not have any tornadoes in April, usually “the heart of our tornado season.”
“At some point,” he said, “the lid’s going to come off.”