Indiana, we just received one of the least-welcome invitations in our history, and we can’t turn it down.
Once upon a time, Indiana only had a seasonal place in Tornado Alley, typically in the spring, when warm equatorial air meets frigid arctic air in a rolling turmoil. Since the term and its borders shift with annual weather trends, Indiana was sometimes included, sometimes not. Not anymore.
In 2016, Purdue meteorologists and climatologists compared two sets of tornado data: 1954-1983 and 1983-2013. They concluded that the center of tornado activity, once firmly in Oklahoma, has now shifted to Alabama. With the center goes the “alley”, and while Indiana had been on its fringe, it is now front-and-center in the northern tip.
Double-Checking the Data
Being scientific scientists, Purdue had to verify the data firsthand. Researchers went into the field, traveling to Tornado Alley’s new center in Alabama. In the spring of 2016 and 2017, they used sensitive radar systems and a mobile station to analyze thousands of passing storms, squeezing a wealth of data on precipitation, pressure, wind speed, and temperature, filling up scores up hard drives. Then they began the arduous task of deciphering it.
In fact, Purdue climatologists are still combing through the data, but it’s clear the first study has been confirmed: Tornado Alley HAS moved. The cause is most likely climate change, but given the climate denialism rampant in today’s public and private spheres, Purdue’s climatologists are not formally announcing that conclusion until the analysis is complete, published, and peer-reviewed…because they’re good scientists.
What does this mean for Hoosiers?
That’s actually not so clear. It doesn’t mean Indiana will suddenly be swarmed with out-of-state tornadoes, taking our jobs and taxes. But it may mean tornadoes will be harder to predict across the state and harder to track, and their intensity may increase. That’s a lot of mays, I know, but it’s a reality that we’re only beginning to accept. And weather is fickle. Especially Indiana weather.
The news is not all bad. According to the National Weather Service, the number of fatalities has decreased since 1950, largely because of improvements in weather tracking technology and warning systems. Tornadoes and weather-related hazards are bipartisan concerns, and legislative funding outcries come less frequently. We all agree tornadoes aren’t pretty from the inside.
Hoosiers may love watching tornadoes—it’s in our cultural blood—but that doesn’t mean we trust them.
I have yet to see anything as comprehensive as the National Science Foundation’s “Tornado Alley: K-12 Educator’s Guide.” Don’t let the title put you off. The guide uses non-professional language and clear graphics to fully outline Tornado Alley.