BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WBRC) -Tornadoes are unfortunately common occurrences in Alabama. Research shows they are happening more often and are killing more people than any other state in the country.
Over the past several years, tornadoes have cut a violent path through Alabama. On April 27, 2011, a monster tornado ripped through Tuscaloosa. In just a matter of minutes, the storm destroyed nearly 10% of the city killing more than 50 people.
This past March, another massive tornado killed 23 people in Beauregard in Lee County. The storm decimated homes along its path.
Research from Dr. Victor Gensini, a prominent tornado researcher with Northern Illinois University, finds tornadoes are happening more often in the southeast which gets the nickname “Dixie Alley”.
“The trends since 1980 in the Great Plains your colloquially tornado alley Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas have been downward and they’ve been upward. So an increase in trends in places like Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee and portions of the Midwest,” Gensini said.
Gensini’s research also shows that Alabama tornadoes are the deadliest. The state averages 14 tornado deaths a year which is the highest in the nation. From 1950 to 2016, over 630 people have died in tornadoes in Alabama compared to over 550 in Texas. Gensini says the state’s dense population and a high number of mobile homes could be some of the reasons why storms in Alabama take a deadlier toll.
“You have a lot of mobile homes, weak frame housing style where you know an EF-0 is going to completely level those types of structures. Tornadoes happen there at night more prevalent than other places in the Great Plains and there’s a lot of trees in Mississippi and Alabama and portions of the midsouth making it very difficult for tornadoes to be spotted,” Gensini said.
Gensini tells us all the ingredients for tornadoes to form in the midsouth and midwest are increasing as well. But he’s not exactly sure if that’s natural variability or if it has something to do with human climate change.
“We see tornadoes here 12 months out of the year. There’s never really a quiet month where nothing is happening. I’ve seen tornadoes in December and in July,” WBRC First Alert Chief Meteorologist JP Dice said.
JP has tracked countless tornadoes in Alabama. He says you can see storms for miles in the plains. But in Alabama storms can be harder to see.
“You can see storms in Kansas and Oklahoma visually and that tends to make people react when they see a storm 20 miles away. Here you have trees, you have terrain. It’s harder to see those storms and even harder for us to show the camera shots of those storms,” Dice said.
Dr. Gensini and JP say you can’t be complacent when it comes to preparing for severe weather. They say you need to have multiple ways to receive alerts.
“You can’t have this complacency bias where you forget that these events occur, and we need to stay vigilant regardless of what the calendar says,” Gensini said.
A 2018 study by Northern Illinois and Villanova University researchers shows a tornado is 4.5 times more likely to impact a mobile home in Alabama than in Kansas because Alabama has more mobile homes and a more sprawling mobile home distribution. Census data also shows nationally Alabama has received the fourth most shipments of manufactured homes since 2012.
You can read more on Gensini’s research here.