Dixie Alley is a nickname sometimes given to areas of the southern United States that are particularly vulnerable to strong or violent tornadoes. This is distinct from the better known Tornado Alley and has a high frequency of strong, long-track tornadoes that move at higher speeds (50+ miles per hour).
Dixie Alley includes much of the area of the lower Mississippi Valley. It stretches from eastern Texas and Arkansas across Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia, to upstate South Carolina and western North Carolina; the area reaches as far north as southeast Missouri and southwest Kentucky.
Although tornadoes are less frequent in these states than they are in the southern Plains, the southeastern states have had more tornado-related deaths than any of the Plains states (excluding Texas). This is in part due to the relatively high number of strong/violent long tracked tornadoes and higher population density of this region, as well as the Southern United States having the highest percentage of manufactured homes in the US, where 63% of the overall tornado-related fatalities occur. According to the National Climatic Data Center, for the period January 1, 1950 – October 31, 2006, Alabama and Kansas received the largest amount of F5 tornadoes. Complicating matters is that tornadoes are rarely visible in this area, as they are more likely to be rain-wrapped, embedded in shafts of heavy rain, and that the hilly topography and heavily forested landscape makes them difficult to see.
Common tornado characteristics
Tornadoes and outbreaks in the Dixie Alley region tend to have distinct characteristics than the more well known Tornado Alley. Tornadic storms in Dixie Alley are most often high precipitation supercells due to an increase of moisture from the nearby Gulf of Mexico. The Dixie Alley tornadoes accompanying the HP supercells are often partially or fully wrapped in rain visually impairing the tornadoes to storm chasers, law enforcement, and the public. Increases of warmth and instability in the Dixie Alley region impacts the times when tornadoes form. In the traditional tornado Alley, tornadoes often form in the late afternoon and early evening. Dixie Alley's instability can be maintained long after sunset, increasing the frequency of nighttime strong tornadoes. There is a lack of a focused tornado season which can lead to complacency among residents of the region. The region occasionally has tornadoes much earlier than the general national peak from May and June, and several notorious outbreaks have struck during the late winter and early spring and also in late fall. The complacency situation was noted after the 2008 Super Tuesday tornado outbreak in February 2008 that hit the Dixie Alley killing 57 people, many people indicated that they had underestimated the threat of severe weather on that day since it was well before the peak of tornado season.
Dixie Alley has been susceptible to numerous tornado outbreaks throughout history. Notorious outbreaks affecting the region include: the Great Natchez Tornado, the 1884 Enigma tornado outbreak, the April 1924 tornado outbreak, the 1932 Deep South tornado outbreak, the 1936 Tupelo-Gainesville tornado outbreak, the April 1957 Southeastern tornado outbreak, the 1984 Carolinas tornado outbreak, and the November 1992 tornado outbreak. The 1974 Super Outbreak also hit the area very hard, producing multiple F5 storms in Alabama, and F4 storms in North Georgia and the Appalachian southwest of North Carolina. More recently the region was hit by the 2008 Super Tuesday tornado outbreak followed by the April 14–16, 2011 tornado outbreak, the deadliest since the 2008 outbreak. Two weeks after the April 14–16 event, Dixie Alley was the epicenter of the April 25–28, 2011 tornado outbreak, also known as the 2011 Super Outbreak, that was the largest tornado outbreak ever recorded as well as the fourth deadliest outbreak in United States history, killing over 300 people.
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