FRANKFORT, Ky. – A new study shows Tornado Alley is on the move with an increase in tornadic activities heading eastward, impacting areas more vulnerable and unprepared, including in Kentucky.
According to a study in the journal Climate and Atmospheric Science, tornadoes have been decreasing over the past few decades in typical places such as Oklahoma, Texas and Kansas but increasing in Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois and Tennessee.
The study’s lead author is Victor Gensini, a professor of atmospheric sciences at Northern Illinois University.
“It’s very hard for us to say with any degree of certainty that this is due to climate change,” he states. “It could just be that the Plains have been quieting down and other areas of the East are heating up and this is sort of a natural cyclical cycle that will then transition back to the Plains someday.”
Gensini says the biggest increase in tornado activity is in states along the Mississippi River. He warns the shift could mean more fatalities as it encroaches on areas where more people live.
More than 1,200 tornadoes touch down on average in the U.S. each year. In Kentucky there are about 24.
Gensini says he’s worried about those areas east of the Mississippi where there are more mobile home parks and places where there are a lot of trees, making it harder to spot tornadoes.
“You see a lot of tornado fatalities and casualties every year in these locations,” he points out. “So, with tornado numbers on the rise, kind of intersecting this very vulnerable area, we really need to get the word out, do some education and outreach, to let these folks know they’re at risk every year but the risk is increasing in some areas.”
Several other researchers praised Gensini’s work. The report notes that other studies also highlight the Mid-South as having the greatest potential for a rise in tornado disasters by the end of the century.