Cover Story: Dixie Alley - Tornado Alley

By Jeff Atkinson - bio l email

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - It is pure devastation in Dixie Alley.  Dozens of reported tornadoes.  It is the deadliest twister outbreak in decades.

Nearly 300 people killed.  Entire cities are in ruins.  People saw the giant funnel clouds and ran for their lives.  Anything or anyone left behind didn't stand a chance.

"I saw nothing," said one man.  "It was basically looked like somebody took a bulldozer and bulldozed every house down."

Said another, "I mean, there's no houses left. I mean, everything is gone.  My garage is gone, my house is gone, everything that I own is gone except for my bathroom and it's gonna be bulldozed real soon."

Another storm victim commented, "People are still alive. We can rebuild. We can't replace people. That's the important thing."

It's the deadliest tornado outbreak in nearly 40 years.  There were deaths Wednesday night in Tennessee, Kentucky, Georgia, Virginia, Mississippi and, of course, Alabama.

And as the midnight storms rolled through homes were destroyed in our back yard, in Caldwell and Burke counties.

There were two confirmed tornadoes in North Carolina.  One in Morganton, the other in Lenoir.

No deaths from these twisters, but lives were certainly ruined as the winds ripped apart family homes.

Think about this. Over the past decade, the average number of annual tornado-related fatalities is 62.  But over the past day and a half almost 300 people were killed by these storms in six southern states.

You hear the talk of Tornado Alley.

But this year, the death and destruction - the storms, they're taking aim at Tornado Alley's southern neighbor - Dixie Alley.

This is what happens each year about this time, just never to this extent before.

"Tornado Alley" gets all the attention but the tornado season actually begin here in the south - a place known as "Dixie Alley."

The numbers are mind-boggling says meteorologist Kelly Franson.  654 reported tornados so far in April and the month's not over.  Those are preliminary numbers.. likely will go lower.

But even if they do it beats the previous single-month record for tornados: 543 in May 2003.

Dozens of tornadoes in the deep south yesterday which left scores of people dead.  But this isn't "Tornado Alley" where tornadoes are supposed to be or is it?

"This is a map that shows you based on the time of year when you see the peak," said Franson.

When tornados show up in April and May, they're in Tennessee, Mississippi and Alabama.

By May, June and July there's a shift to where we traditionally associate tornadoes in the midwest.

Why does it shift? How does it happen?

In the early spring the Jet Stream brings northern cold air south where it meets warm southern Gulf air and spawns the severe weather where tornadoes form - in Dixie Alley.

As spring moves into summer the Jet Stream goes north and that violent activity forms in the plains, becoming Tornado Alley.

With so much devastation in the Deep South in the last 24 hours we asked Kelly Franson how the extremely violent weather never made it here.

"In this situation by the time it got to us it was out of phase," she said.  "So as soon as you know those different layers of the atmosphere out of phase.. yes you can still get the strong storms but you don't tend to see the number of tornadoes."

April and May are big months for tornadoes in the south.

April's about to break a record.  Does it mean it'll continue into next month?  The only thing we can say it may or may not.

Copyright 2011 WBTV. All rights reserved.