Saturday, June 5, 2010

Dixie Alley...

Screen capture of video I shot during the initial genesis of the Conway Springs, KS tornado (5/29/04)... You rarely see clear daytime tornadoes like this in Dixie Alley!

As a meteorologist/storm chaser I hear about Tornado Alley all the time! There is no doubt that more tornadoes occur in this alley/region compared to any other alley/region in the United States... However, there is another alley where some of the strongest long tracked tornadoes of all time have occurred... This alley is called Dixie Alley and I'm here to say it's very real and very dangerous! The Yazoo City, MS monster (1.75 miles wide) long track (149 miles) EF-4 tornado on 4/24/10 is a great example of this... Click Here for my chase recap from that day! Click here for the video...

This alley includes the states of Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, and Georgia... One of the many differences between Dixie Alley and Tornado Alley, is Dixie Alley gets a lot more tornadoes during the fall/winter months (November-March) than Tornado Alley... So, Dixie Alley really has three distinct tornado seasons (fall, winter, spring)... The typical April, May, June season and another clear season from November through March... If you think about it, the Deep South doesn't get much of a break from October/November through May/June... Interesting stat for you that I still believe applies today, Alabama has had more tornadoes (recorded) in November than any other month! Most people have no idea how many tornadoes Dixie Alley gets in November... Here is a link to the storm reports from a very famous November tornado outbreak I lived through here in Starkville, MS on 11/10/02 (Storm chased through MS that night)...

Another aspect that makes Dixie Alley just as dangerous, if not more dangerous than Tornado Alley, is the fact that a lot of the supercells in the Deep South are HP (High Precipitation) in nature... This is due mostly to the close proximity to the Gulf of Mexico (added moisture)... The Deep South already has WAY more trees than the Great Plains, so typically having HP supercells just makes things even more dangerous... It's SO HARD to see the tornado! As someone that has chased in Mississippi more than almost any other chaser out there, trust me, it's EXTREMELY hard to chase in the Deep South... Also, it can be very dangerous if you don't know what you are doing!

Not only are there a lot of the HP Supercells, where rain wraps around a lot of your tornadoes, Dixie Alley tends to get more tornadoes at night compared to Tornado Alley... I personally feel this is again due to the close proximity of the Gulf of Mexico... The extra moisture helps keep your instability up throughout the night... Also, during the winter season the close proximity to the Gulf of Mexico plays a big role in why the Deep South has enough moisture/instability to sustain supercells capable of producing tornadoes... I would also argue that this close proximity to the Gulf of Mexico helps lower LCL/LFC heights (more moisture/lower dewpoint depression) which makes it easier for an updraft to ingest streamwise horizontal vorticity in the vertical...

Some more interesting facts for you... Mississippi has unfortunately had 3 of the top 7 deadliest tornadoes of all time... Dixie Alley on average has more (slightly) strong long tracked tornadoes than Tornado Alley... Also, unfortunately Dixie Alley on average has many more killer tornadoes than Tornado Alley... This is mainly due to the lack or visibility (terrain & HP supercells), occurrence at night, and having so many more people living in mobile homes... Keep in mind that there is a higher population in Dixie Alley as well! There are many more stats that I'll let you look into, as I'll leave a link to an amazing powerpoint on Dixie Alley... The powerpoint is based off a paper done by Alan Gerard, who is the MIC at Jackson, MS... I'll also leave a link to a write up done by James Spann on Alan Gerard's interesting paper!

I state all of this NOT to have some sort of competition/debate on which alley is worse! I honestly don't care, because it's not important! I state all of this to show people that Dixie Alley is real, and is a danger to all the people living within it! So much more tornado research is done in Tornado Alley (for obvious reason like visibility), but I would still love to see more research done in Dixie Alley to hopefully better educate the people living in the Deep South about the unique tornado dangers they face! From the dozens and dozens of school talks I have done over the years across the state of Mississippi, I have overwhelmingly found that many feel the tornadoes they see on TV in Texas/Oklahoma/Kansas, are the same tornadoes we get here in the Deep South! That is rarely the case, and is one of my main reasons for pushing more education across the Deep South about Dixie Alley... Just because you can't see the tornado, doesn't mean it's not there!!!

I will say more research has been done on Dixie Alley in the last 10 years or so, which is without a doubt a positive... However, it's obviously not enough because so many have no idea that Dixie Alley even exists, let alone understand the unique dangers it presents! All I can do is continue to educate as many people as I can through school talks, blog posts, storm chasing, and everyday regular life... I hope this blog post sheds some light on this topic... As someone that lives/teaches in Dixie Alley (Mississippi) I find this topic extremely interesting/important!

(Click on Meeting Notes on the left, and then go down to February 2006)


  1. That is was a fantastic post. And I agree completely agree. The media and attention is always in the direction of what happens in the plains, very seldom do we ever see similar coverage in the Deep South. In fact only recently have I even notice how many tornadoes truely occur on a yearly basis. I think thing that gets me is how long the season really is down south. If it isn't a tropical system very little attention is given to the South. In regards to weather.

  2. Thanks Maurice! My goal is to get more attention/research on Dixie Alley, which will hopefully lead to more education in the Deep South about the unique dangers they face with tornadoes...

  3. Great post! I live in Dixie Alley and unfortunately found myself right next to one of those "rain-wrapped" tornados 2 yrs ago. I agree that more Southerners need to be educated about the dangers. So many only think it happens in traditonal tornado alley and can be very complacent about the risks.