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Fun Facts About Tornadoes

Tornadoes are one of the fastest occurring and most devastating weather anomalies in North America. In fact, the United States has more tornado occurrences than any other country in the world. The reason for this is a perfect mixture of landscape, dry, cold air and warm, moist air converging in a recipe that can spell disaster for America's heartland.

Fun Facts About Tornadoes

"Tornado Alley" is the fertile tornado nursery east of the Rocky Mountains where cold Canadian air meets warm, moist air streaming up from the Gulf of Mexico. This area includes Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota, North Dakota, Iowa, Missouri, Arkansas, Louisiana, Illinois, Indiana and parts of Minnesota, Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee. Tornadoes can occur outside of this area, especially in the southern states.

Tornado Facts

A tornado is an amazingly powerful storm that often occurs with little or no warning. Scientists and storm chasers who study tornadoes are trying to understand more about how and why they form in order to develop more advanced warning systems. The following facts from FEMA and the National Severe Storms Laboratory state what is known about tornadoes:

  • Top wind speeds can reach up to 300 miles an hour.
  • While the average speed of a tornado moving from one location to another is around 30 miles per hour, they have been known to move as fast as 70 miles per hour.
  • Tornadoes occur most frequently between the hours of 3 PM and 9 PM, however, they can occur at any time.
  • Tornadoes usually occur at the back end of a thunderstorm.
  • Tornadoes can form over water, creating a waterspout, which is usually a weak tornado.
  • The United States averages between 800 and 1200 tornadoes each year. Tornadoes often start very lightly colored or transparent, however the more debris they pick up, the darker they become, often turning black.
  • The average direction that a tornado travels is southwest to northeast.
  • It is not uncommon for the air to become completely still right before a tornado hits.
  • The damage path of a tornado can be more than a mile wide and up to 50 miles long.
  • It is possible for tornadoes to occur during tropical storms and hurricanes that move on shore.

Tornado Myths

It's possible that not everything you've ever heard about tornadoes is accurate. It's important to know facts from myths when it comes to tornadoes because the wrong information could get you hurt or killed. Here are some common tornado myths:

  1. Tornadoes cannot form on or near mountains.
  2. The low pressure associated with tornadoes causes buildings to explode so you should open the windows before a tornado hits to help equalize the pressure.
  3. Tornadoes cannot occur in or around skyscrapers.
  4. Tornadoes always have a visible funnel cloud and can be seen from miles away.
  5. The safest place to seek shelter is the southwest corner of the basement.
  6. Your chances of surviving a tornado are better, if you drive away instead of seeking shelter.

Do any of these myths surprise you? If so, here are the following facts that debunk these myths:

  1. On July 21, 1987, an F4 tornado occurred in the Teton Wilderness and Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming. The tornado traveled 24 miles at elevations ranging from 8500 to 10,000 feet.
  2. High winds and debris traveling at incredible speeds cause the damage during a tornado and windows will break anyway if the tornado is strong enough to tear the building apart.
  3. Tornadoes have been recorded in several major metropolitan areas including Dallas, Salt Lake City, Miami, St. Louis, Oklahoma City and Wichita Falls.
  4. Tornadoes can start out transparent and can be hidden by heavy rainfall.
  5. Tornadoes do not always travel northeast and have even been known to backtrack. The safest areas in a home are usually under a stairwell or under a sturdy desk in the basement.
  6. It is hard to predict the path of a tornado. Even if you are lucky enough to be driving in the opposite direction of where a tornado is headed, the potential for road hazards caused by the storm is very high, not to mention other panicked drivers on the road. A tornado can easily pick up a car and slam it down again miles away. Seeking shelter underground is the safest thing to do.

Plan Ahead for Safety

Whether you live in "tornado alley" or not, having a plan ahead of time will help your chances of survival should you ever get caught in the path of a tornado. First, make sure you understand the difference between a tornado watch and a tornado warning. A watch means weather conditions are favorable for thunderstorms that can produce tornadoes. A tornado warning is issued once a tornado has been identified and poses an immediate threat to anyone living in the area.

Identify the safest area in your home, your workplace and your community to go to during a tornado. Finally, purchase or make your own tornado safety kit.