Tornado Alley’ is expanding: Southern states see more twisters now than ever before

Country/area: United States

Organisation: USA TODAY, The Tennessean, The Clarion Ledger, Savannah Morning News, Greenville News, The Fayetteville Observer, The Independent Mail.

Organisation size: Big

Publication date: 17/06/2021

Credit: Dinah Pulver, Mitchell Thorson, Ramon Padilla, Stephen J. Beard, Doyle Rice, Shawn Sullivan, Melissa Brown, Paul Woolverton, Adam Friedman, Caitlin Herrington, Mary Landers, Gabriela Szymanowska, Mara Corbett, Kyle Omphroy, Ken Ruinard, Mike Burns


This was a multi-newsroom effort consisiting of over a dozen journalists.

Project description:


The USA Today Network talked with scientists and experts and examined years of tornado data to understand and show how millions of Americans living in the South are at an even greater risk for tornadoes than those in the Plains. 

Impact reached:

Much of the South, which is more vulnerable than “Tornado Alley,” is increasingly in harm’s way. Our colleague Dinah Pulver and others noticed this and worked hard to spread awareness so that more people would be aware that they were in harm’s way and get prepared.  

Clear and comprehensive data visualizations and explanatory graphics communicated the expansion of tornadic activity into new, densely populated areas and illustrated the ways it was fueled by climate change. The project also brought in impressive readership and engagement numbers. 

Techniques/technologies used:

We combined code-powered data visualization with 3D renderings and animations to create a scrolling, explanatory visual story. We combined these elements in a video file controlled by the browser. D3, Adobe Illustrator, and After Effects were used to create most of the visuals.  

What was the hardest part of this project?

The hardest part of this project was reserved for Mike Burns, who wrangled the work of dozens of journalists across the country. The project is noteworthy for its ambition and scope, and for drawing a clear connection between climate change and devastating tornadic activity. Many assume that tornados are something that happens somewhere else, but the project makes clear that is changing quickly in many part of the country. 

What can others learn from this project?

By utilizing video as a meeting point, we were able to combine visualizations created using completely different approaches seamlessly and increase the stability of the web presentation.

By combining local publications with a national graphics team, the project was able to serve readers across multiple states who were in harm’s way. The national publication benefited from excellent local reporting, and local papers in turn were able to utilize analysis by the USA Today’s Data team and advanced visualizations created by the Graphics team.  

Project links: