Oklahoma’s Changing Tornado Alley

Long known for being the center of Tornado Alley, Oklahoma may soon have competition from other locations for the recognition.

Because of climate change and global warming, studies are showing Tornado Alley is moving to the east, said Jason Furtado, associate professor of Meteorology and Carlisle and Lurline Mabrey Presidential Professor at the University of Oklahoma’s School of Meteorology

“With time, we’re seeing more and more tornadoes and hail going towards the Mississippi River Valley, Arkansas, Missouri, Tennessee, etc. And there’s been a decline in the central states, Oklahoma, Texas, Kansas, Nebraska,” he said. “It doesn’t mean we still don’t get them, obviously. But there’s been a shift eastward in that.”

The dry line – a division between really arid, hot weather that a lot of western Oklahoma sees, versus eastern Oklahoma, which tends to be a lot more humid and a lot greener – is moving from central Oklahoma eastward, Furtado said.

“That dry line also tends to trigger severe weather,” he added. “And so we are seeing that sort of clash zone headed further east as well.”

Additionally, tornadoes are taking place in Oklahoma at different times of the year than previously seen. Oklahoma, he said, typically has two tornado seasons: around April and May and a second season in October and November.

“We are seeing more and more winter time or December, January timeframe-type of tornadoes and severe weather and that is at least partly because of the warming climate,” he said. “We are seeing warmer conditions, warmer winters. We have the atmosphere that is a lot more primed, it has a lot more juice, it has a lot more instability that can … really drive that type of severe weather.”

In addition to tornadoes, Oklahoma is experiencing drought and will continue to, Furtado said.

“There’s been a lot of studies about going into the future that we can expect a lot more frequent, and more intense drought, and especially what we call flash droughts,” he said. “These are droughts that evolved very quickly over just a couple of weeks or so.”

For farmers and ranchers, today’s world looks very different than it did even a few generations ago, he said.

“Things are just different now. And we have to recognize that going into the future,” Furtado added.