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23 Dead as Tornado Pummels Lee County, AL in Further Sign 'Tornado Alley' Is Moving East
"I cannot recall, at least in the last 50 years, and longer than that, a situation where we have had this type, this loss of life that we experienced today," Jones told CBS affiliate WRBL-TV.
There are children among the dead, Jones further told The Associated Press. He said the death toll could rise, but that search and rescue efforts had to pause Sunday night because the amount of debris made the work unsafe in the dark.
The National Weather Service (NWS) in Birmingham, Alabama issued a tornado emergency at 2:09 p.m. Sunday for Lee County, AccuWeather reported. The tornado was part of an extreme weather event Sunday that saw several tornadoes touch down across the Southeast as part of a series of storms, The Associated Press reported.
The incident comes a little less than six months after a Northern Illinois University study found that tornado frequency was trending away from the traditional "tornado alley" of the Great Plains towards the more densely populated Midwest and Southeast. This is bad news for the South, where tornadoes are more deadly because of higher population density, a high number of vulnerable mobile homes and a greater chance of tornadoes occurring at night.
Researchers told CBS at the time that the eastward shift of tornadoes was related to the eastward push of dry air from the desert into the plains, shifting the "Dry Line" between dry desert air and warm, wet Gulf of Mexico air along which most tornadoes occur.
Study author Dr. Victor Gensini of Northern Illinois University told CBS this shift could be due to climate change.
"It's not a big jump to say that climate change is causing this shift east. The hypothesis and computer simulations support what we are observing and what we expect in the future," Gensini told CBS.
Sunday's tornado was at least half a mile wide and measured an F3 on the Fujita scale according to initial NWS calculations. The Fujita scale assesses tornado wind speed and corresponding destruction from zero to five. An F3 tornado has a wind speed of 158 to 206 miles per hour.
The storm destroyed homes and knocked out power in Beauregard, Alabama and destroyed around 20 homes in Smiths Station, Alabama, CBS News reported.
"Our hearts go out to those who lost their lives in the storms that hit Lee County today. Praying for their families & everyone whose homes or businesses were affected," Alabama Governor Kay Ivey said in a Tweet Sunday, as CBS reported.
Correction: An earlier version of this article referred to Sunday's tornado as the first in Lee County, AL. There have in fact been 40 tornadoes in Lee County since 1950, according to NOAA's Storm Events Database, not including Sunday's storms.
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Poverty and violence in Central America are major factors driving migration to the United States. But there's another force that's often overlooked: climate change.
Retired Lt. Cmdr. Oliver Leighton Barrett is with the Center for Climate and Security. He says that in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, crime and poor economic conditions have long led to instability.
"And when you combine that with protracted drought," he says, "it's just a stressor that makes everything worse."
Barrett says that with crops failing, many people have fled their homes.
"These folks are leaving not because they're opportunists," he says, "but because they are in survival mode. You have people that are legitimate refugees."
So Barrett supports allocating foreign aid to programs that help people in drought-ridden areas adapt to climate change.
"There are nonprofits that are operating in those countries that have great ideas in terms of teaching farmers to use the land better, to harvest water better, to use different variety of crops that are more resilient to drought conditions," he says. "Those are the kinds of programs I think are needed."
So he says the best way to reduce the number of climate change migrants is to help people thrive in their home countries.
Reporting credit: Deborah Jian Lee / ChavoBart Digital Media.
Reposted with permission from Yale Climate Connections.
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