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Tornado Alley

In the United States, there are two regions with a disproportionately high frequency of tornadoes. Florida is one and "Tornado Alley" in the south-central United States is the other. Florida has numerous tornadoes simply due to the high frequency of almost daily thunderstorms. In addition, several tropical storms or hurricanes often impact the Florida peninsula each year. When these tropical systems move ashore, the embedded convective storms in the rain bands often produce tornadoes. However, despite the violent nature of a tropical storm or hurricane, the tornadoes they spawn (some as water spouts) tend to be weaker than those produced by non-tropical thunderstorms.

Tornado Alley is a nickname given to an area in the southern plains of the central United States that consistently experiences a high frequency of tornadoes each year. Tornadoes in this region typically happen in late spring and occasionally the early fall. The Gulf Coast area has a separate tornado maximum nicknamed "Dixie Alley" with a relatively high frequency of tornadoes occurring in the late fall (October through December).

Strong to violent tornadoes (those of EF-3 or stronger on the Enhanced Fujita Tornado Damage Intensity Scale), are relatively rare, and do not typically occur outside the United States. Although the boundaries of Tornado Alley are debatable (depending on which criteria you use—frequency, intensity, or events per unit area), the region from central Texas, northward to northern Iowa, and from central Kansas and Nebraska east to western Ohio is often collectively known as Tornado Alley. Meteorologically, the region known as Tornado Alley is ideally situated for the formation of supercell thunderstorms, often the producers of violent (EF-2 or greater) tornadoes.

Overall, most tornadoes (around 77%) in the United States are considered weak (EF-0 or EF-1) and about 95% of all United States tornadoes are below EF-3 intensity. The remaining small percentage of tornadoes are categorized as violent (EF-3 and above). Of these violent twisters, only a few (0.1% of all tornadoes) achieve EF-5 status, with estimated winds over 200 mph and nearly complete destruction. However, given that on average over 1,000 tornadoes hit the United States each year, that means that 20 can be expected to be violent and possibly one might be incredible (EF-5).

United States Tornado Frequency and Tornado Alley

          Click Map for Larger Image of Tornado Alley
                     From Cancannon et al, 2000

           Click Map for Larger Image of Dixie Alley









Note:  Tornado Alley has no agreed upon boundaries, these are just two representations based upon different criteria.