How severe weather and tornado trends have changed over the past four decades

Elyse Smith Image
Wednesday, March 27, 2024
How severe weather and tornado trends have changed over past 4 decades
A recent study from our partners at Climate Central shows how severe weather and tornado trends are changing across the country.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- So far this year, tornadoes have taken at least 58 lives across 10 states, already surpassing the annual average for tornado fatalities in the U.S. In a recent report from Climate Central, its data suggests severe weather and tornado trends have changed over the past four decades. The significance is who is being impacted and where.

Data from Climate Central shows that the traditional area known as Tornado Alley is shifting east, citing an increase in potential tornado days across states like Arkansas, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Alabama. There was also a slight decrease in tornado days for that infamous "alley" area for The Panhandle, Oklahoma, Texas, and Kansas. It's important to note, though, that severe weather can occur east of the Rocky Mountains whenever conditions are right. For Southeast Texas, that couldn't be truer.

On Tuesday, ABC13 Meteorologist Elyse Smith spoke with Dr. Harold Brooks, an expert on severe weather from NOAA's Severe Storm Laboratory. He credited Houston's proximity to the Gulf of Mexico as to why, citing its moisture as a key missing ingredient other places across the country usually lack on a daily basis.

"The Gulf of Mexico is right there on top of you," Dr. Brooks said. "You don't have to wait more than a few hours to get the moisture on shore."

The important correlation is when it comes to severe winter storms, a season that is seeing an uptick in severe weather activity, especially across the Gulf Coast.

Climate Central's report also noted the changing demographics of who is being impacted by severe weather. With this easterly shift, it's putting more vulnerable communities at risk for severe weather and tornadoes, including rural areas and those who live in mobile homes. Research shows that tornado deaths are 10 times more likely in mobile homes than in permanent structures. And there are higher concentrations of mobile home communities across the mid-South, where there is also an increase in tornado trends.

Dr. Brooks also mentioned that while the number of days with tornadoes has decreased, the number of tornadoes per year has remained the same. That makes potential severe weather outbreaks even more dangerous.

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