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If you live in the United States you know about Tornadoes. You also may know that there are regions that are more prone to Tornadoes than others. In the United States this region is known as Tornado Alley. As the name implies it is a region in the middle of the continental United States that is between the Appalachians and the Rocky Mountains. However this is not the only place where tornadoes form. Parts of the U.S. have seen tornadoes develop when the conditions are right. What makes tornado alley so unique is that is a region where the conditions for a tornado forming are more consistent than in other parts of the country.
So where is Tornado Alley? It is important to note that the term Tornado alley is not completely scientific. Is more a term coined by the media to describe the vulnerability of the area to this particular type of weather condition. However it has weight because of the validity behind the name. It is said up 90 percent of the tornadoes that happen in the United States happens in the Central United States. So even though the National Weather Service does not have an official designation the term has definite weight behind it.
So what makes Tornado Alley such and ideal place for Tornado formation. The first point is the geography of the region. The area is mostly made up of the flatlands known as the Great Plains. This region has no major mountain ranges. This is important because mountains act as breaks on weather systems forcing them to dump the majority of their moisture before crossing over them. This is why the southwestern United States has a more arid climate. In the case of the Great Plains the region’s lack of these natural barriers leaves it open to cold front from Canada and warm fronts from Mexico and the Gulf Coast. When cold and warm front collide the create supercells the thunderstorm systems that create tornadoes.
Studies of the occurrence of tornadoes have shown that there may be small versions of Tornado alley all over the United States. This would explain extraordinary storms in areas like Georgia and Alabama. However we also have to take into account that regions like the Southeast have vulnerabilities to other weather systems that can spawn tornadoes as a side effect. The most likely to do so are hurricanes. The main Tornado alley has learned lessons from history by using more extensive warning systems and building more secure and sturdy homes.
If you’d like more info on tornado, check out the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Homepage. And here’s a link to NASA’s Earth Observatory.
We’ve also recorded an episode of Astronomy Cast all about planet Earth. Listen here, Episode 51: Earth.