Wrong, WDSU, Climate Change Is Not Causing an Increase in ‘Dixie Alley’ Tornadoes

A Tornado forming in the evening from a supercell.

From ClimateREALISM

By Linnea Lueken

A recent article by a meteorologist writing for WDSU New Orleans, “Rising tornado numbers linked to climate change, study says,” makes the erroneous claim that climate change is causing more tornadoes in the southeastern United States. In reality, data show overall tornado occurrences nationwide are likely trending downwards as the planet modestly warms. The writer of the article appears to have misrepresented or misunderstood tornado research.

Meteorologist Adam McWilliams says climate change is shifting more tornadoes into “Dixie Alley,” a region of the Southeastern United States that has a high tornado outbreak frequency.

McWilliams writes in the WDSU article, “The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration [NOAA] says since January 2019, 99 of the nation’s 120 tornado-related deaths – 83% — have occurred in the Southeast. In the 2010s, NOAA says 54% of tornado deaths occurred in the Southeast, up from 25% in the 1980s.”

This is a poor argument. As a matter of logic, if the number of tornadoes in Tornado Alley decrease, as some research suggests, then the percentage of deaths by region would be expected to shift, as well.

After misrepresenting NOAA’s findings McWilliams referenced another report, writing, “A 2016 study from Purdue University says that climate change is linked to this increase in tornado activity,” and describes the results of the study, which found an eastward bias for tornado occurrence over time.

In the Purdue news release linked in the article, the study’s authors make far more modest, scientifically circumspect claims. The researchers forthrightly state more research is needed before they could definitively point to climate change as the culprit.

Their research divided the last sixty years into two thirty-year sections, and analyzed tornado occurrences, with the earlier thirty year block representing a cooler period.

From the release:

Data showed a notable decrease in both annual counts and tornado days in the traditional “tornado alley” of the central plains, aided by declines in summer and autumn. However, annual values were sustained in the southeast with some increase in “Dixie alley” due in part to substantial autumn seasons increases from Mississippi to Indiana, Agee said.

Severe tornadoes are decreasing nationally, contrary to alarmist claims, a fact NOAA has recently tried to hide. Climate Realism has covered this several times, including herehere, and here, for example.

As the NOAA Tornado Climatology and Data page explains:

“The increase in tornado numbers is almost entirely in weak (EF0-EF1) events that are being reported far more often today due to a combination of better detection, greater media coverage, aggressive warning verification efforts, storm spotting, storm chasing, more developmental sprawl (damage targets), more people, and better documentation with cameras (including cell phones) than ever.”

Got that! Better detection of tracking of weak tornadoes, not more tornadoes, are responsible for the seeming increase in tornadoes overall.

When Climate at a Glance: Tornadoes analyzed extreme tornadoes (EF3+), shown in the Figure below, which would have been harder to miss in the past, it found a notable decline.

This figure shows the frequency of strong to violent tornadoes (tornadoes registering EF3 or stronger) has been declining since the early 1970s. Sources: Graph by Anthony Watts using official NOAA/Storm Prediction Center data, accessed August 16, 2021, https://www.spc.noaa.gov/wcm

Tornadoes are weather events, and cannot be conclusively linked to a changing climate. When presented the question “Does climate change cause tornadoes,” NOAA’s tornado research FAQ compiled by Roger Edwards responds with a solid “No,” and goes on to explain that “Climate models cannot resolve tornadoes or individual thunderstorms.”

Even the VORTEX Southeast page linked by McWilliams rejects his premise, and goes into detail about the reasons why tornado outbreaks in the Southeast seem to be worse than in other regions.

From their home page:

For example, tornadoes in the Southeast occur in a region often characterized by hills and trees which reduce visibility of the horizon. They are also more likely to occur at night, in fast-moving storms, and earlier in the year compared to other parts of the country. Furthermore, vulnerability is increased by unique socioeconomic factors, which VORTEX-Southeast research has shown include inadequate shelter, housing type, and larger population density relative to other tornado-prone areas in the U.S.

The real problem for the southeast, especially Mississippi, which in fairness McWilliams did devote the second half of his article to, is poor infrastructure and a larger, more dense population with a lot of people living in mobile homes. This combination of dense population and fragile infrastructure offers more, more vulnerable, targets for tornado damage.

As a meteorologist, McWilliams should have recognized this, and been more honest in his reporting on tornado occurrences in the southeast. It seems before sitting down to write, McWilliams failed to do the research necessary to provide a balanced, fully informed article on tornado trends in the Southeastern United States. Perhaps that was intentional, since only a misrepresentation of the evidence can generate alarming claims that climate change is causing more tornadoes.

Linnea Lueken


Linnea Lueken is a Research Fellow with the Arthur B. Robinson Center on Climate and Environmental Policy. While she was an intern with The Heartland Institute in 2018, she co-authored a Heartland Institute Policy Brief “Debunking Four Persistent Myths About Hydraulic Fracturing.”

5 19 votes
Article Rating
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Richard (the cynical one)
April 19, 2022 10:34 pm

In war, truth is the first casualty.

CD in Wisconsin
Reply to  Richard (the cynical one)
April 20, 2022 6:29 am

I like to say that the first casualty of both war and activism is the truth. It is the one thing they have in common.

Dave Fair
April 19, 2022 10:49 pm

Lies, damned lies and CliSciFi.

Steve Case
April 19, 2022 10:51 pm

Not all the much off topic:

Yesterday’s CBS news with Norah O’Donnell she made the claim that:

   “Sea levels to rise an additional foot by 2050 because of climate change.” 

That comes to almost 11 mm/yr for the next 28 years.

A minute or so later the news story says, “With climate change making storms more intense, there’s no time to waste.”

The story was about making a sea wall against storm surge in Texas.


Reply to  Steve Case
April 19, 2022 11:39 pm

Ha! Last II saw Galveston hasn’t maintained the one they built after the 1900 Hurricane wiped them out.

Frederick Michael
April 19, 2022 11:11 pm

The decline is most pronounced for the strongest tornadoes. We’re in a record drought for F5/EF5s right now. Every day without one sets a new record.


Reply to  Frederick Michael
April 20, 2022 7:37 am

But when one hits, it will be CC that causes it…..

AGW is Not Science
Reply to  DMacKenzie
April 20, 2022 10:38 am

…according to the Climate Nazis and their “useful idiot” lapdogs.

Ken L
Reply to  Frederick Michael
April 21, 2022 1:43 am

No one in Oklahoma is complaining. From 2010 -2013, 8 EF4-EF5 tornadoes hit the state, not counting the record 2.6 mile wide 2013 El Reno 2013 tornado rated EF3 from damage but with Doppler on wheels radar measured winds of over 290 mph. 7 of those occurred in an 8 county area in central Oklahoma.

April 19, 2022 11:34 pm

I have always thought that the higher fatality rate in the Deep South relative to Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, etc is in part attributable terrain and foliage.

Out.in the wide open spaces you can see them coming a long way off during daylight hours. Not so much among the trees and less flat terrain of Mississippi, Alabama etc.

There is a reason the storm chasers prefer to work in the plain states.

Old Man Winter
Reply to  Rah
April 20, 2022 2:14 am

You may be on to something I had never thought of. I used to live in TX & drove through the plains to
get back to MN. They also discuss time of day as being a factor. The three tornado incidents I was
close to in TX, OK, & KS were late afternoon to early evening.


Ken L
Reply to  Old Man Winter
April 21, 2022 4:56 am

Wall to wall coverage on the local news stations save lives. There are 20 to30 highly professional trackers out , high end weather radar systems with real time data visible to the public. on their TV screens. Often up to a week heads up for a severe outbreak. Our meteoroogists are local heroes each storm season and some in off season like last Octobe with a record number of twisters for the month of october. Helicopters up spotting potential danger – it’s like a militatary operatiobm saving the lives, property of our plains and urban citizenry. You see everything as soon as the chasers and weathermen do.

Kudos to them all!

April 20, 2022 12:02 am

“However, annual values were sustained in the southeast with some increase in “Dixie alley” due in part to substantial autumn seasons increases from Mississippi to Indiana, Agee said.”

I’d be especially interested in their geographical parameters when deciding on increases and decreases. Indiana caught my eye here; Western Ohio is the eastern edge of the Central Plains & Indiana is fully embedded in the CP. And where, exactly, is Dixie Alley? Well, Wiki shows the northern edge barely in Kentucky, so one state south of Indiana.

With a, what to call it, a manipulation?, of geographical area boundries, one immediately wonders is the boundaries are determined by the incidence of tornadoes rather than the other way around.

April 20, 2022 1:32 am

But even if climate change might cause more or fewer tornados, what has that to do with Carbon Dioxide?

Reply to  Oldseadog
April 20, 2022 3:33 am

That is a silly question; everything is caused by CO2 😉

David A
Reply to  Oldseadog
April 20, 2022 5:11 am

Because changes in tornado frequency NEVER happened before CO2 pollution.

And we know for certain that any decrease in tornado frequency (which never happened before anyway) was never in the past called an increase.

Peter W
April 20, 2022 5:25 am

My observation is that it is a typical bunch of “woke” fear-mongering.

Tom Halla
April 20, 2022 5:51 am

If one lives in an area with tornadoes, the local TV tends to go to continuous weather coverage. Doppler radar picks up very small tornadoes that previously would have gone unreported, and coverage has increased.

AGW is Not Science
Reply to  Tom Halla
April 20, 2022 10:48 am

Yes, we now have satellites to monitor every hiccup of every cluster of thunderstorms and breathlessly update the “viewers” every two seconds.

I give them another three years before they start “naming” tornadoes, and then citing an increase in “named tornadoes” as “evidence” of “climate change.”

Richard M
April 20, 2022 6:28 am

So, what is the breakdown vs AMO phase? vs PDO phase? Oh wait, those would be natural factors, so can’t even mention them. That’s how we can tell climate researchers aren’t real scientists.

Weather King
Reply to  Richard M
April 20, 2022 1:48 pm

There are maps showing the change in frequency of tornados in areas of the US based on the ENSO condition of the Pacific Ocean. During la Nina’s, tornados are more frequent than at other times. This is due to the prevalence of a Southeast ridge and cold troughs favored in the West during la Nina, and also phases of the MJO.

lee riffee
April 20, 2022 7:56 am

I think the key takeaway here is the mention of population density. Not just in the US south, but in many places in the world there are simply more people living in areas that either weren’t developed or were less developed decades ago.
No doubt the Native American tribes in the south encountered tornadoes long before colonists ever made it here. But there were a lot fewer of them than there are people in that region now + none of the NA tribes kept a written history or documentation of such weather events.
IMO this is why they say there are “more” of these weather events – simply there are more people to be impacted by them. Tornadoes that would have ravaged across empty land, and back before radar, not even known to exist unless human eyes laid upon them.

Gunga Din
April 20, 2022 7:59 am

This is another example of misdirection to give a false impression often used by alarmist.
The number of deaths is not a valid measure of the frequency or strength of tornados (or hurricanes or snow storms of rain or …).
The cost of property damage is another false measure often used or the number of people affected by a power outage.

April 20, 2022 8:03 am

Lin ==> Very nicely done. Always best just to show where their offered facts are simply not facts at all, but spin on something someone said in an interview about a paper. quoting the paper is the easiest debunking method — authors say things to journalists — what they say is misquoted, in my experience of writing to authors and asking “Did you say that?”, about 90% of the time.

Robert of Texas
April 20, 2022 10:19 am

I have noticed a general decline in TV Weather-Person’s ability to predict or understand anything to do with their own field. They seem more and more like actors who are given lines about a subject they have no understanding of.

Reply to  Robert of Texas
April 20, 2022 1:08 pm

Everyone who shows up on corporate TV for pay is an actor. You have to join some sort of actors union or you don’t get on.

April 21, 2022 9:44 am

Wow! My mother is on the cutting edge of exposing the climate hoax. She texted me about this as soon as the idiot posted it. That is one of her go to local news sources online. She went into comments and was promptly blocked, no profanity or name calling, just pointed out he was wrong.

April 21, 2022 9:37 pm

Are there any maps to show what they they mean by areas where tornadoes have decreased and increased. I’ve looked at several maps and things don’t jive. Tornado Alley is not in the central plains but in the great Plains to the west. Dixie Alley doesn’t extend into Indiana but comes up short of Kentucky to the north.

If they have all this data, they can easily map the changes, color coding the region’s as the percentage changes rise and fall.

%d bloggers like this:
Verified by MonsterInsights