Though Tornado Alley in the Great Plains still leads the country in number of tornadoes, scientists are reporting a worrisome increase of the storms in the Southeast.
More tornadoes have been shifting to an area known as Dixie Alley—a region that includes portions of eastern Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia—where the effects can be particularly devastating.
As CNN meteorologists explain, the terrain in the South is rugged and heavily treed, making it more difficult to spot a tornado than in the wide open plains. And, because Dixie Alley tornadoes are pushed by a stronger jet stream, they tend to stay on the ground longer and move faster, often leaving the public with less time to react. Southern tornadoes are also more likely to occur at night when people are sleeping. Nashville residents had only minutes to act before ahead of a deadly tornado that struck just after midnight on Monday.
Even though it sees fewer tornadoes, Dixie Alley has had more tornado-related deaths than Tornado Alley due to its heavier population. Homes in the Southeast also tend to lack basements.
"As you move east from Kansas to Mississippi, Georgia, Tennessee, the population density increases rapidly and we also have an issue in the Southeast of more mobile homes," Victor Gensini, a professor of meteorology at Northern Illinois University, told CNN. "If you get hit in a mobile home from a tornado, you're much more likely to be killed. You just have a really unique exposure and vulnerability problem."
As for why the South has become a hotbed for tornadoes, a PBS report from last year identifies climate change a prime suspect.
“The water temperatures in the Gulf of Mexico have been running warmer than normal, not only overall during the last several years, but particularly during this time of the year — as we come out of winter into the springtime,” Dan Kottlowski, a senior meteorologist at AccuWeather, told PBS. “When you have warm water, you’re creating a setup that is going to highly influence the development of violent weather across the South early in the season.”
For more information on tornado preparedness and safety, visit Ready.gov/tornadoes.