North Carolina

There’s more than one Tornado Alley in the U.S., and one runs through the Carolinas

Aerial footage shows Alabama tornado damage

A tornado ripped through the rural Alabama community of Beauregard on Sunday. At least 23 people were killed. Drone footage shows some of the destruction the tornado left behind.
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A tornado ripped through the rural Alabama community of Beauregard on Sunday. At least 23 people were killed. Drone footage shows some of the destruction the tornado left behind.

Most people know about the Tornado Alley across the Great Plains, where each season deadly tornadoes touch down from Texas and Oklahoma, up through Kansas, the home of Dorothy, and into Nebraska and Iowa. But meteorologists say there’s a newer tornado highway that leads through South Carolina and North Carolina, according to Accuweather.

The exact definition of the Carolinas Alley depends on the source. Accuweather says it starts in the northern tip of Georgia “through the top of South Carolina extending toward the coast into the northeastern part of North Carolina.”

South Carolina has, on average, 27 tornadoes a year, and North Carolina averages 31, according to the National Centers for Environmental Information.

A University of Akron in Ohio presentation defines the Carolina Alley as running from northeast of Florence, South Carolina up through northeast North Carolina.

North Carolina’s biggest recorded outbreak of tornadoes was on April 16, 2011, Spectrum News reports, and it followed about the path of the Akron researcher’s “Carolina Alley,” including a tornado that blew straight through downtown Raleigh. Hundreds of people got hurt that day and 24 died, Spectrum News reports.

The Akron map lumps Georgia in with what meteorologists call “Dixie Alley,” which runs through the Deep South from Louisiana into Mississippi and Alabama. That’s the part of the country where 23 people died Sunday when an EF-3 touched down in Lee County, Alabama, CNN reports.

At Hunter Magnet Elementary in Raleigh, students participated in a statewide tornado drill, with Nick Petro of the National Weather Service, who said "every school, every office, every residence," should have a tornado plan, on Wednesday, Mar 6.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration puts the Carolinas in with the rest of “Dixie Alley.” Southern Living magazine lumps the Carolinas in with “Dixie Alley” too.

Though, when defining “Tornado Alley” and “Dixie Alley,” NOAA points out: “Tornado Alley has no agreed upon boundaries, these are just two representations based upon different criteria.”

But the South, whether in Alabama or North Carolina, presents different challenges to keep people safe from tornadoes.

“Unlike the Plains, where a tornado can be seen coming from miles away, the South has more rugged terrain and more trees, making it more difficult to spot a tornado. Many tornadoes that occur in this area are ‘rain-wrapped,’ so they are less visible to the naked eye,” according to CNN.

Tornadoes in “Dixie Alley” will “move faster” and stay down longer, causing more destruction, CNN reports, especially when combined with the higher population and more dense development compared to the Great Plains.

Tornado activity in the southeast is increasing, according to a study published late last year in the journal Nature. “Two recent studies show increased tornado frequency in the eastern United States and decreased activity generally in the central United States,” reported the study’s authors, researchers from NOAA’s National Severe Storms Laboratory.

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Charles Duncan covers what’s happening right now across North and South Carolina, from breaking news to fun or interesting stories from across the region. He holds degrees from N.C. State University and Duke and lives two blocks from the ocean in Myrtle Beach.