Apr 4, 2023 - News

Tornado alley is shifting away from Texas

A twisted street sign in front of a ton of tornado wreckage

The October 2019 tornado that hit Preston Hollow was one of the worst of the last decade. Photo: Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

America's "tornado alley," which includes North Texas, appears to be shifting eastward.

Why it matters: Tornadoes in Texas have caused billions of dollars in damage over the last few years. A shift in strong tornado activity would be welcome news for Texans, but not for other states.

State of play: As the southern parts of tornado alley, Texas and Oklahoma have historically had the most tornadoes per year per 10,000 square miles, according to the UCAR Center for Science Education.

Yes, but: Victor Gensini, an associate professor of meteorology at Northern Illinois University, tells Axios' Rebecca Falconer and Andrew Freedman that records dating back 70 years show Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas and Nebraska have had stagnant or less strong tornado activity.

  • Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama, Illinois and Indiana are getting strong tornadoes more frequently.

The big picture: Overall, the frequency of tornado activity in the U.S. has been declining, and peak tornado activity has shifted to earlier in the spring from late spring and early summer.

Threat level: The eastern part of the country is more densely populated than the traditional tornado alley, elevating the risks to people and property.

  • More than 50 people died in the past two weeks after severe thunderstorms and tornadoes tore through the South, Midwest and Mid-Atlantic.
  • Another potentially significant outbreak is projected from Illinois to Arkansas today.

Between the lines: Climate scientists have studied thunderstorms for many years to understand how our warming environment may impact their severity.

  • "Climate change is altering the frequency, the intensity, maybe the location of where these things are happening, but at the same time, humans are increasing our footprint, our cities are growing larger," Gensini says, adding that this would need to be factored into urban planning.

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