The Southeast is known for sweet tea, good cooking and tough-nosed football. However, in the weather world, the region has developed a reputation for tornadoes and severe weather, earning it the nickname “Dixie Alley.”
In a recent Weather Channel report of Top 10 Tornado States, southeastern states claimed 5 of the 10 spots. Alabama ranked ninth with 8.6 tornadoes per 10,000 miles. Florida, Mississippi, South Carolina and Louisiana also made the list.
The Weather Channel report said Alabama had a record 145 tornadoes in 2011. From 1991 to 2010, the National Climatic Data Center reported an average of 44 Alabama tornadoes per year.
According to WSFA 12 News Meteorologist Josh Johnson, Dixie Alley includes most of Alabama and Mississippi, as well as parts of Tennessee, Louisiana, Arkansas and Georgia. Johnson said warm, moist air from the Gulf of Mexico creates an environment prone to thunderstorm and tornado development.
“Dixie Alley is nothing new,” Johnson said. “It’s relatively new that scientists and the public are calling it that specific name, but the Southeast has long been vulnerable to major tornado disasters.”
Johnson said three of the five deadliest tornadoes in history occurred in Dixie Alley in the early twentieth century, before the modern weather warning system was created.
“People in the South can’t wait until they see a tornado to take shelter,” he said. “By then, it’s too late.”
Large trees, forests and hills in the Southeast also make it difficult to see tornadoes, Johnson said. Fall and winter tornado events often occur in the Southeast, but environmental conditions can make those events more difficult to forecast, he said.
For Alfa, having its core states in the heart of Dixie Alley means an increased risk of tornado events. In 2011, the company had nearly 47,000 weather-related claims, with approximately 25,000 from the historic April 27 tornado outbreak.
The tornadoes in Dixie Alley leave behind destruction and death. In 2011, Alabama had more than 240 fatalities from tornadoes.
While tornadoes can’t be avoided, residents of Dixie Alley can better ensure safety in a tornado emergency. By monitoring weather conditions and having a safe place to stay during a storm, people can be prepared for severe weather threats.