Twisters increasing across Dixie Alley: Louisiana ranks third nationally in tornadoes per square mile

William Taylor Potter Andrew Capps
Lafayette Daily Advertiser
Tornado damage on hwy 751 near Churchpoint, LA. Monday, May 18, 2020.

Louisiana is becoming part of tornado alley as the state’s frequent twisters rank it third in the nation for number of tornadoes per square mile from 2000 to 2019.

Weather watch:The South is more vulnerable to deadly tornadoes as land, sea, air and government collide

Tornadoes appear to be occurring more frequently in Louisiana, and they are affecting a growing number of parishes with consistently deadly consequences.

In the three years between 2017 and 2019, Louisiana has

seen some of its most prolific tornado activity, as each year reported more than 60 EF1 and above tornadoes, making them among the top five years for tornado activity in the state since 1971.

Prior to 2017, Louisiana only registered more than 60 tornadoes twice, recording 69 in 1992 and 60 in 1990, according to the most recent data available covering 1950 to 2019.

Louisiana had an average of around 25 tornadoes per year from 1980 to 1989. From 1990 to 1999, that number grew slightly to around 26 per year. For 2000 through 2009, the state averaged 18 tornadoes per year.

But from 2010 to 2019, that number jumped to around 32 tornadoes per year, an increase of almost 40% from the state's average across the preceding 30 years.

Trends over time:Tornadoes have become more frequent across Louisiana, 'Dixie Alley,' says study

Scientists, however, can’t pinpoint how much of that increase is coming from additional tornadoes and how much is an increase in the reporting of tornadoes due to improved weather observation technology, such as Doppler radar, urbanization and more people with cellphones who film and report tornadoes.

Death and destruction are regularly reported

The most recent data available shows that between 2016 and 2019, Louisiana suffered the most property damage it has seen from the storms since at least 1996.

The most damaging year was 2019, when the state saw more than $87.4 million in property damage caused by tornadoes. That sum is more than five times the amount of tornado damage reported in 2018 and 2017, when the state saw $14.7 million and $12.6 million worth of property damage from the storms respectively. 

In comparison, tornadoes in 2016 caused roughly $51,000 worth of property damage across Louisiana.

Acadia Parish Sheriff  K.P. Gibson surveys the damage from a Tornado that touched down on  hwy 751 near Churchpoint, LA. Monday, May 18, 2020.

Tornadoes have also regularly taken the lives of Louisianans in recent years, as at least one person has died from a tornado in the state in every year since 2016 for a total of 10 lives lost to the storms between 2016 and 2019.

A look back:Easter tornadoes caused massive damage, but no injuries in northeast Louisiana

Another report:One dead, seven injured after 130 mph tornado touches down in St. Landry Parish

Notably, Easter Sunday 2020 was marked by devastating tornadoes in north Louisiana, with tornadoes wreaking havoc in Monroe, fortunately sparing the lives of the area’s residents.

That May, citizens of Church Point were less fortunate, as a tornado there caused nine injuries and left one person dead.

Just two months ago in St. Landry Parish, another tornado took the life of one resident and injured seven more after touching down at around 2:30 a.m. on April 10 near Palmetto.

Recent stories:One person dead, multiple injured in Church Point, Louisiana tornado

Tornadoes increasing across "Dixie Alley"

Tornadoes typically happen when warm, moist air collides with cooler, drier air. They're typically triggered in weather fronts that sweep from west to east, though they can also be spawned by hurricanes.

In recent years, the storms have also spread out to affect more parts of the state, with the period between 2017 and 2019 again showing increased activity across Louisiana.

EF1 or greater tornadoes 1950-2019.

Between 2010 and 2019, Louisiana ranked third in the country in tornadoes per 10,000 square miles of land at 5.9, behind only Mississippi and Alabama. Louisiana also ranked eighth overall for total EF1 and above tornadoes in the same timespan at 508.

During the five years from 2015 through 2019, an average of 25 parishes were impacted by tornadoes -- the highest of any five-year period since 1980. From 2017 to 2019, more than 30 parishes were affected by tornadoes each year.

Louisiana is not alone among southern states where recorded tornadoes have increased in recent years. Mississippi, Alabama and even Kentucky have become part of an expanding area increasingly impacted by tornadoes, sometimes referred to as "Dixie Alley."

Follow Andrew Capps on Twitter or send an email to acapps@theadvertiser.com.