Fort Worth, Texas — It's too early in the severe weather season to find storm chaser Tim Baker behind the wheel of his Nissan Altima equipped with mounted cameras, weather-watching gadgets and communications devices. Instead, he's in his Greeley, Colo., home on the computer, doing research on object of his passion and, in part, his livelihood: tornadoes.
Baker does not begin his daily search for significant twisters in North Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas or Nebraska, the traditional area that severe weather experts long ago dubbed "Tornado Alley."
He and a gaggle of fellow storm chasers begin by searching stretches of Tennessee, Missouri and states even farther northeast, like Illinois, Indiana and Ohio.
"Tornado Alley shifts when the weather patterns shift," he says. "When the weather patterns shift, people need to shift their minds, and that's not what's happening."
Baker believes that when the climate is in a warming trend, as it has been in the past decade, the more significant tornadoes will be east of the traditional alley. Such trends, while short-lived, should be enough to warrant rethinking of the alley's true boundaries, he says.
In the past 50 years, Texas tornadoes have far outnumbered those in other regions.
According to the National Climatic Data Center, Texas averaged 139 tornadoes per year in 1953 through 2004, followed by Oklahoma (57), Kansas and Florida (55), and Nebraska (45).
Looking at strong to violent tornadoes - those that are F2 to F5 on the Fujita scale - Texas averaged 29 per year, followed by Oklahoma (11) and Kansas and Iowa (9).
Such figures support the traditional boundaries of Tornado Alley.
But there have been 13 killer tornadoes in 2007 in the United States, according to the Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla.
Ranked in the order of fatalities, the states are Florida (21), Alabama (10), Georgia (9), Louisiana (3), Oklahoma (2), Texas (1), Colorado (1) and Missouri (1).
Going back to 2000, fewer than 8 percent of the killer tornadoes were in the traditional alley.
The number of deaths outside of the alley could merit the expansion - or elimination - of the name Tornado Alley, said Alan Moller, meteorologist-in-charge with the National Weather Service office in Fort Worth.
Expanding the alley could also help improve preparedness efforts in areas that are now not thought of as being in the alley, he said.
U.S. Census figures show a greater density of mobile homes in the Southeast. There, the proliferation makes deaths more likely, even if the tornadoes are less powerful, said Harold Brooks, head of the Mesoscale Applications Group with the National Severe Storms Laboratory.
The Southeast also is less experienced with tornadoes, and the season is not uniform, researchers say; plus, their attention is on flash floods, hurricanes and greater weather-related priorities.
That's a tragedy, because mobile homes don't mix well with tornadoes.