Friday, January 29, 2016

Arkansas is in Fatality Alley

With the threat for overnight severe weather next Monday evening into Tuesday morning, I thought it would be important to show you why we're always concerned with overnight storms.  How this next event unfolds is still not completely clear.  The fact that it's coming in at night may limit the overall potential.  If this system slows down and it comes in Tuesday PM, then the concern will be raised for more severe weather.

There are even signs a strong cold front will sink through Arkansas Monday and push the warm/moist air to the south.   That means we will need to watch how quickly the high levels of instability returns to the north.  Anyway, I'll post more about that later.  Please read the following.

Several years ago, meteorologist Ashley Walker worked on some important research.  He found out that portions of Arkansas are in what's called "Fatality Alley" meaning there are more deaths caused by tornadoes in sections of Arkansas, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Alabama than any other place in the country.

Research from Meteorologist Walker Ashley with Northern Illinois University
If the new statistics from the National Weather Service and research from Walker Ashley aren't a wake up call, I don't know what is?    Here are a few of reasons portions of the mid south are in "fatality alley"

  • Mobile home density. The NIU meteorologist said 44 percent of all fatalities during tornadoes occur in mobile homes, compared to 25 percent in permanent houses. The southeast United States has the highest percentage of mobile-home stock compared with any other region east of the Continental Divide. “Mobile homes make up 30 to 40 percent of the housing stock in some counties in the deep South,” Ashley said. “By far, mobile homes are the most vulnerable structures in a tornadic situation.”
  • Nighttime tornadoes. The southeast United States has a higher likelihood of killer nighttime tornadoes. Most states within this region have greater percentages of tornado fatalities occurring at night than other states.“I just completed another study that shows tornadoes from the midnight to sunrise period are 2.5 times as likely to kill as daytime events,” Ashley said. Further, nocturnal tornadoes are more difficult to spot, and people are more likely to be asleep when warnings are issued.
  • Forested areas. Whereas regions within the Great Plains by definition are lacking in tree cover, the mid-South region is more forested, leading to reduced visibility both for the public and spotters.
  • Early season storms. Storms that occur before the national peak in the severe storm season, which spans May and June, may catch people off guard during a tornado event.
  • Complacency. In contrast to other parts of the country, the South lacks a focused “tornado season,” which can lead to complacency. “In the South, people think tornado alley is where you get tornadoes,” Ashley said. “That sort of perception also leads to complacency, which in turn leads to higher fatality rates.” He points out that Oklahoma is known worldwide for the frequency of its tornadoes. Yet the state has fewer fatalities than Arkansas, Alabama and Mississippi.
The media and the National Weather Service must intensify efforts to save lives.  I don't want to underestimate the current efforts because I know many work hard and long hours to communicate life saving information.  New ideas and initiatives must be explored to change this unfortunate fact of life in the mid south.


Anonymous said...

Some of these factors Dr. Ashley points out kind of play off each other when we are talking about tornado fatalities. For example, Oklahoma may have less fatalities because visibility is greater there. You can see tornadoes coming for miles. That is not the case in Arkansas. Also, you could argue that people are complacent this time of year because we are not supposed to have tornadoes in January. Statistically, we do, but spring is the peak for tornadoes. Anything outside of spring might be a surprise to some folks.

Anonymous said...


Good post and well-timed for the early February event.

Unknown said...

I just watched the weather channel Mike forbes just said parts of arkansas will have winds up to 150 mph as i seen where the winds are coming from i am right in dead center of it.

Anonymous said...

Two words: Weather Radio There needs to be a state or government program to put a weather radio in every home where tornadoes occur on a regular basis. No, it won't solve all the problems. However, it would make a big difference.

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