'Tornado Alley' Inclusion May Stave Off Storm Complacency

Monday, October 29th 2007, 7:20 am
By: News On 6

Some weather experts would like to see all of Indiana included in National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration maps outlining the ``Tornado Alley'' portion of the United States.

They think the designation might help prevent complacency about the violent storms. But the agency's Web site calls Tornado Alley a nickname with no official boundary.

Indiana frequently sees spring tornadoes and had a fall one hit Oct. 18 in Nappanee. No one was killed in that storm, but damages estimates for the northern Indiana community are expected to climb past $10 million.

Two maps on sites of the agency, which runs the National Weather Service, outline areas commonly known as Tornado Alley. One includes part of Indiana. The other, based on different criteria, does not.

The American Meteorology Society defines Tornado Alley as the area of the United States where tornadoes are most frequent. But the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has never defined the area. Its Web site includes a disclaimer saying the alley has no agreed-upon boundaries.

Indiana's tornado frequency is comparable to Great Plains states like Kansas or Texas that are most commonly associated with Tornado Alley, said David Arnold, an assistant professor of in the department of geography at Frostburg State University in Maryland.

Arnold developed a meteorology program at Ball State University and started that school's Storm Chase Team in 2001.

Indiana ranked 15th in the number of tornadoes and sixth in both fatalities and injuries from 1950 to 1994, according to administration data.

However, the accuracy of old statistics can be unreliable, said John Taylor, a National Weather Service meteorologist.

And while most Tornado Alley maps use data gleaned from past years, the actual area may shift on an annual basis, according to ``Tornado Tim'' Baker, a professional storm chaser from Colorado.

Baker lived in Indiana for many years, and he said he thinks traditional maps lead to complacency.

``People just need to be aware, `This year, it could be us,' `` he said.