SURVIVE THE STORM: Is tornado alley shifting?

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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. -- The traditional tornado alley stretches from the Dakotas south to Kansas and Oklahoma and continues into Texas. But a new study says its shifting east closer to Missouri.

(AP Photo/Julie Bennett)

"It's very consistent with climate change," said Victor Gensini, Meteorology Professor at Northern Illinois University. "Drying out in the Southern Great Plains and an eastward shift of the capping inversion or elevated mixed layer that really suppresses thunderstorm development across the plains and we think that feature may be getting stronger due to a warming desert southwest."

He and his team have found tornado numbers have increased along and east of the Mississippi while they have decreased in the traditional tornado alley region of Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas.

"If we have more tornadoes further to the east when we get away from the Great Plains we have a much greater population density and so we're putting people at more risk and we are also putting a much more vulnerable population at risk," said Gensini. "When you move east of the Mississippi river we see a lot more mobile home units, we see a lot more tornadoes that happen at night, we have a lot more tornadoes that happen in wooded areas. Think of tornadoes in Texas and Oklahoma and Kansas where things are wide open versus your area where we have a lot of trees and hard to see tornadoes and they often happen at night in these embedded squall lines. That's the sort of shift we're seeing. Those are much more dangerous."

Professor Gensini says with each severe weather event, the research team gathers more data and gets a clearer picture. As with any climate study, this is a long term project and it could take years to see if this is just a short term trend or a more permanent change.