Tornado Facts & Trivia
Tornadoes are one of nature's most violent storms. In an average year, about 1,000 tornadoes are reported across the United States, resulting in 80 deaths and over 1,500 injuries. A tornado is a violently rotating column of air extending from a thunderstorm to the ground. The most violent tornadoes are capable of tremendous destruction with wind speeds of 250 mph or more. Damage paths can be in excess of one mile wide and 50 miles long.
Tornadoes come in all shapes and sizes and can occur anywhere in the U.S. at any time of the year. In the southern states, peak tornado season is March through May, while peak months in the northern states are during the summer.
Nature's Most Violent Storms
Although tornadoes occur in many parts of the world, these destructive forces of nature are found most frequently in the United States east of the Rocky Mountains during the spring and summer months. In an average year, 800 tornadoes are reported nationwide, resulting in 80 deaths and over 1,500 injuries. A tornado is defined as a violently rotating column of air extending from a thunderstorm to the ground. The most violent tornadoes are capable of tremendous destruction with wind speeds of 250 mph or more. Damage paths can be in excess of one mile wide and 50 miles long. Once a tornado in Broken Bow, Okla., carried a motel sign 30 miles and dropped it in Arkansas!
What causes tornadoes?
Thunderstorms develop in warm, moist air in advance of eastward-moving cold fronts. These thunderstorms often produce large hail, strong winds, and tornadoes. Tornadoes in the winter and early spring are often associated with strong, frontal systems that form in the Central States and move east. Occasionally, large outbreaks of tornadoes occur with this type of weather pattern. Several states may be affected by numerous severe thunderstorms and tornadoes.
During the spring in the Central Plains, thunderstorms frequently develop along a "dryline," which separates very warm, moist air to the east from hot, dry air to the west. Tornado-producing thunderstorms may form as the dryline moves east during the afternoon hours.
Along the front range of the Rocky Mountains, in the Texas panhandle, and in the southern High Plains, thunderstorms frequently form as air near the ground flows "upslope" toward higher terrain. If other favorable conditions exist, these thunderstorms can produce tornadoes.
Tornadoes occasionally accompany tropical storms and hurricanes that move over land. Tornadoes are most common to the right and ahead of the path of the storm center as it comes onshore.
How Do Tornadoes Form?
Tornadoes Take Many Shapes & Sizes
Tornado Myths & Facts
MYTH: Areas near rivers, lakes, and mountains are safe from tornadoes.
MYTH: The low pressure with a tornado causes buildings to "explode" as the tornado passes overhead.
MYTH: Windows should be opened before a tornado approaches to equalize pressure and minimize damage.
FACT: Opening windows allows damaging winds to enter the structure. Leave the windows alone; instead, immediately go to a safe place.
Tornadoes Occur Anywhere
Weather Radar Watches the Sky
Meteorologists rely on weather radar to provide information on developing storms. The National Weather Service is strategically locating Doppler radars across the country which can detect air movement toward or away from the radar. Early detection of increasing rotation aloft within a thunderstorm can allow lifesaving warnings to be issued before the tornado forms.
Frequency of Tornadoes
Stay Informed About the Storm
Listen to NOAA Weather Radio, commercial radio, and television for the latest tornado WATCHES and WARNINGS.
When conditions are favorable for severe weather to develop, a severe thunderstorm or tornado WATCH is issued.
Weather Service personnel use information from weather radar, spotters, and other sources to issue severe thunderstorm and tornado WARNINGS for areas where severe weather is imminent.
Severe thunderstorm warnings are passed to local radio and television stations and are broadcast over local NOAA Weather Radio stations serving the warned areas. These warnings are also relayed to local emergency management and public safety officials who can activate local warning systems to alert communities.
NOAA WEATHER RADIO IS THE BEST MEANS TO RECEIVE WARNINGS FROM THE NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE.
The National Weather Service continuously broadcasts updated weather warnings and forecasts that can be received by NOAA Weather Radios sold in many stores. The average range is 40 miles, depending on topography. Your National Weather Service recommends purchasing a radio that has both a battery backup and a tone-alert feature which automatically alerts you when a watch or warning is issued.
What To Listen For...
Remember, tornadoes occasionally develop in areas in which a severe thunderstorm watch or warning is in effect. Remain alert to signs of an approaching tornado and seek shelter if threatening conditions exist.
Environmental Clues of Tornadoes
Look out for:
CAUTION: Some tornadoes appear as a visible funnel extending only partially to the ground. Look for signs of debris below the visible funnel. Some tornadoes are clearly visible while others are obscured by rain or nearby low-hanging clouds.
Other Thunderstorm Dangers
These dangers often accompany thunderstorms:
Contact your local National Weather Service office, American Red Cross chapter, or Federal Emergency Management Agency office for a copy of the "Thunderstorms and Lightning ... The Underrated Killers" brochure (NOAA PA 92053) and the "Flash Floods and Floods ... The Awesome Power" brochure (NOAA PA 92050).
What YOU Can Do BEFORE the Storm
What YOU Can Do If a Warning is issued or if threatening weather approaches
Occasionally, tornadoes develop so rapidly that advance warning is not possible. Remain alert for signs of an approaching tornado. Flying debris from tornadoes causes most deaths and injuries.
IT'S UP TO YOU!
Each year, many people are killed or seriously injured by tornadoes despite advance warning. Some did not hear the warning while others received the warning but did not believe a tornado would actually affect them. The preparedness information in this brochure, combined with timely severe weather watches and warnings, could save your life in the event a tornado threatens your area. After you have received the warning or observed threatening skies, YOU must make the decision to seek shelter before the storm arrives. It could be the most important decision you will ever make.
Who's Most At Risk?
Tornado Safety IN SCHOOLS
Every School Should Have A Plan!
Hospitals, nursing homes, and other institutions should develop a similar plan.
Your National Weather Service, Federal Emergency Management Agency, and American Red Cross educate community officials and the public concerning the dangers posed by tornadoes. YOU can prepare for the possibility of a tornado by learning the safest places to seek shelter when at home, work, school, or outdoors. You should also understand basic weather terms and danger signs related to tornadoes. Your chances of staying safe during a tornado are greater if you have a plan for you and your family, and practice the plan frequently.
Family Disaster Plan
Families should be prepared for all hazards that affect their area. NOAA's National Weather Service, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and the American Red Cross urge each family to develop a family disaster plan.
Where will your family be when disaster strikes? They could be anywhere - at work, at school, or in the car. How will you find each other? Will you know if your children are safe? Disasters may force you to evacuate your neighborhood or confine you to your home. What would you do if basic services - water, gas, electricity or telephones - were cut off?
Follow these basic steps to develop a family disaster plan...
NOAA/PA 92052 ARC 5002
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