Killer Tornado Alley
Why Tennessee is a More Deadly State
By: Meteorologist Chris Justus, CBM
For decades many southerners have grown up with a false sense of security when it comes to tornadoes. The common notion that Tornado Alley, a non-meteorological term outlining Oklahoma, Kansas, Iowa, South Dakota, Nebraska, Texas and Missouri as the only area that receives massive, devastating tornadoes is wrong. In reality, a greater percentage of stronger
twisters actually occur in the southeast. In fact, Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia, Arkansas, Mississippi and Louisiana have had significantly more fatalities than the traditional tornado alley, given a more accurate name, Killer Alley. But why would areas commonly thought as mediocre areas for severe weather be so deadly? This paper will show that meteorological factors combined with socio-economics and the publics perception of tornadoes result in the deadly results. We will examine tornado statistics from 1951-2011.
1950-2011 (52 Years)
Traditional Tornado Alley: 23,614 twisters 1,628 deaths
KillerAlley: 9,536 twisters 2,144 deaths
The Traditional Tornado Alley has had 14,078 or 2.5 times more tornadoes than Killer Alley. However, Killer Alley has had 516 more fatalities, 32% more deaths than The Traditional Tornado Alley.
Comparing Major Tornadoes EF3-5
Traditional Tornado Alley: 1,226 out of 23,614 tornadoes (5%)
Killer Alley: 783 out of 9,536 tornadoes (8%)
Comparing EF4 and EF5
Traditional Tornado Alley: 256 out of 23,614 tornadoes (1%)
Killer Alley: 142 out of 9,536 tornadoes (2%)
While the Traditional Tornado Alley have the most significant tornadoes, a greater percentage of them of occur in Killer Alley.
Excluding the Unusual 2011 Season
Traditional Tornado Alley: 5,138 twisters 164 deaths
KillerAlley: 2,600 twisters 247 deaths
Traditional Tornado Alley Deaths 2001-2010: (IA: 17, NE: 3, KS: 27, OK: 20, TX: 18, MO: 75, SD: 0 )
KillerAlley Deaths 2001-2010: (TN: 100, MS: 29, AL: 39, GA: 27, LA: 11, AR: 41
Top 5 Deadly States 2001-2010 Top 5 Deadly States 1950-2011
1. Tennessee 100 deaths 1. Alabama 709
2. Missouri 75 deaths 2. Texas 555
3. Alabama/Arkansas 39 deaths 3. Tennessee 513
4. Indiana Florida 31 deaths 4. Mississippi 485
5. Georgia/Kansas 27 deaths 5. Oklahoma 456
2001-2010 Tornadoes: OK :54 TN: 28
2001-2010 Deaths: OK: 20 TN: 100
Tennessee By Category
1950-2011 (52 Years)
EF5: 3 EF3-EF5: 11% of all twisters
EF4: 31 EF4: 3% of all twisters
EF3: 87 EF3: 8% of all twisters
Tennessee By Decade
EF3-5 EF5 EF4 EF3 Total EF0-EF5
2001-2010: 23 (100 deaths) 0 4 19 284
1991-2000: 30 (36 deaths) 1 6 23 239
1981-1990: 8 (8 deaths) 0 1 7 104
1971-1980: 20 (56 deaths) 1 6 13 165
1961-1970: 12 (14 deaths) 0 2 10 85
1951-1960: 20 (77 deaths) 0 8 12 90
Tennessee Tornado Deaths Population
2001-2010: 100 2010: 6,403,353 ( 11.5% 2000, 24% 1990)
1991-2000: 36 2000: 5,689,283
1981-1990: 8 1990: 4,877,185
1971-1980: 56 1980: 4,591,120
1961-1970: 14 1970: 3,923,687
1951-1960: 77 1960: 3,567,089
With the population in Tennessee up 1.5 million, nearly 25% since 1990 development is widespread across the state. Tornadoes that used to strike rural farm land are now devastating shopping malls, apartment complexes and housing developments. The more people in one area the great chance you have for deaths. The above chart represents the trend.
Time of Day
Night tornadoes are more common in Killer Alley, 35% of all twisters occur between 7pm and 7am. Here in Middle Tennessee that number is great, 45% of all of our tornadoes occur between7pm and 7am.
-Forestry is more prevalent east of the Mississippi. 52% of Tennessee land is covered by forestry.
-Oklahoma only has 24% of their land covered in forestry.
-Less forestry allows for better visibility and less debris flying around.
Manufactured homes are more prevalent in the southeastern United States. In fact, in Tennessee 1 in 10 homes are mobile homes.
The problem with manufactured homes is they are bottom heavy. Often with steel foundations on the floor, when tornadoes come through they often times will flip allowing the heavy steel to crush everything inside.
Storms in the southeast are able to tap into rich moisture from the Gulf. This means southeastern storms commonly have heavy rain associated with them. So tornadoes are often times hard to see rain-wrapped twisters, invisible until they are right on top of you.
Government Incentives: Through the Hazard Mitigation Assistance Grant Program states can apply for FEMA funding to try to mitigate future disasters called Hazard Mitigation Funding.
-Funds tied to previous disaster activity.
-FEMA will hand out certain percentage of money after each disaster for states to use how they deem fit to reduce future impacts.
-Each state then prioritizes requests for funding based on threats.
Oklahoma, Texas, Mississippi, Arkansas and Alabama are all states that use that funding as a way to reimburse families up to 75% the cost of building storm shelters. Meaning a $3,000 shelter will cost around $750 bucks.
Tennessee, does not. Currently the state doesnt accept applications for funding from individuals. Instead Mitigation Money is going into community shelters. In 2012 $250,000 dollars of TNEMA funding went to three safe rooms at Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, TN. FEMA contributed $1.5 million to the project. TNEMA
Statement from TNEMA on June 8, 2011: Tennessee: Although considered an eligible project under FEMAs Hazard Mitigation Grant Program, safe room project applications are not accepted by the State. The reason is simple: Tennessee has never received enough disaster funds to fairly disseminate the funds to all who would be interested. In order to have the greatest impact with limited funds, the state concentrates on community shelters or reinforced corridors in schools where it can provide a safe place for many people at one time.
Tennessee Hazard Mitigation Grant Program Funding 2006-2011
Disaster Declared Reason Funding
1. 4/5/2006 Storms/Tornadoes/Flooding $721,253
2. 2/7/2008 Storms/Tornadoes/Flooding $3,000,686
3. 2/17/2009 Winter Storms $986,455
4. 5/15/2009 Storms/Tornadoes/Flooding $700,838
5. 7/13/2009 Storms/Tornadoes/Flooding $1,406,262
6. 10/21/2009 Storms/Tornadoes/Flooding $368,166
7. 5/4/2010 Historic May Flood $81,558,315
8. 9/15/2010 Storms/Tornadoes/Flooding $635,538
9. 3/31/2011 Storms/Tornadoes/Flooding $1,157,602
10. 5/1/2011 Storms/Tornadoes/Flooding $9,217,793
11. 5/9/2011 Storms/Tornadoes/Flooding $1,289,735
12. 5/9/2011 Storms/Tornadoes/Flooding $5,459,858
13. 7/20/2011 Storms/Tornadoes/Flooding ????
14. 3/16/2012 Storms/Tornadoes/Flooding ????
Funds Per Year From Tornado Related Disasters
2006: $721,253 2007: $0 2008: $3,000,686 2009: $2,807,938
2010: $635,538 2011: $17,124,988
Public vs. Private Tornado Shelters: Oklahoma officials are shutting down public shelters due to the encouragement to get the public on the roadway during storms. They found the public is more at risk versus staying at home. They have put more funding toward reimbursing the public on private in-home shelters. Those same shelters Oklahoma is shutting down Tennessee spent $46 million dollars to build more in the past 10 years. One of TEMAs latest shelters in 2012 was at Austin Pea State University in Clarksville that cost them $1.5 million. TEMA Director James Bassham told us this, "Quite frankly we feel like the better bang for your buck is having a shelter in a school or a community where you can get a number of people in there."
We took a closer look. The $46 million that TEMA spent on public shelters protect around 43,000 people. But, if TEMA would have put the money toward rebates, 23,000 private shelters could have been funded protecting nearly 138,000 people, over 3 times more.
Bobby Boyd, National Weather Service Office Nashville, TN
The Storm Prediction Center
The United States Census Bureau
The United States Forest Service
Federal Emergency Management Agency
Monday, April 30 2012, 09:34 PM CDT
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