Videos, Photos and Facts About Tornadoes

Tornadoes are the most destructive storms on this planet. Their violent, high winds have been known to wipe out entire towns in just minutes. According to the National Severe Storms Laboratory, about 60 people are killed by tornadoes every year. Just recently, on June 17, 2010 the state of Minnesota experienced deadly tornadoes. Two different EF4 tornadoes took the lives of two people and another EF4 tornado wiped out buildings and injured 30 in Wadena, located in West Central Minnesota.

June 17, 2010. Destructive tornado in Wadena, Minnesota
June 17, 2010. Destructive tornado in Wadena, Minnesota
June 17, 2010. A tornado near Grand Forks, North Dakota. This was part of the same storm system that killed two in Minnesota.
June 17, 2010. A tornado near Grand Forks, North Dakota. This was part of the same storm system that killed two in Minnesota.

Tornado Formation

A tornado occurs during a thunderstorm when warm air quickly rises and cold air stays at the Earth's surface. This creates winds from two different directions and they collide and begin to spin. The updrafts cause the funnel cloud to become vertical. The funnel cloud then reaches the bottom of a cumulonimbus cloud. When the funnel cloud reaches the ground that's when it becomes a tornado. There are many other factors involved in how exactly a tornado forms, some of which scientists are still trying to understand.

This tornado on the South Dakota prairie could be classifed as either EF3, EF4 or EF5. (photo from National Geographic)
This tornado on the South Dakota prairie could be classifed as either EF3, EF4 or EF5. (photo from National Geographic)

Tornado Classification

Tornadoes are classified by using the Enhanced Fujita Scale (EF). This scale rates the strength of a tornado based on the damage it causes. As of February 1, 2007 the Enhanced Fujita scale was implemented in place of the original Fujita Scale that was developed in 1971.

EF0 (gale tornado) - wind speed: 65-85 miles per hour (mph). Causes minor damage that can tear off tree branches, damage sign boards and chimneys.

EF1 (moderate tornado) - wind speed: 86-110 mph. Causes moderate damage that can overturn mobile homes and push moving vehicles off the road

EF2 (significant tornado) - wind speed: 111-135 mph. Causes considerable damage that can demolish mobile homes, uproot large trees, lift cars off the road

EF3 (severe tornado) - wind speed: 136-165 mph. Causes severe damage that can damage large buildings, destroy well-constructed houses, overturn trains

EF4 (devastating tornado) - wind speed: 166-200 mph. Causes extreme damage to near total construction that can completely level well-constructed houses and its frames, blow off structures with weak foundations, throw cars

EF5 (incredible tornado) - wind speed: over 200 mph. Causes total destruction. An EF5 tornado can badly damage reinforced steel concrete structure and lift houses off of their foundation and carry them through the air.

About 2% of the 1000 tornadoes that occur each year are categorized as EF4 or EF5.

EF5 tornado located between Parkersburg and New Hartford, Iowa in May, 2008.
EF5 tornado located between Parkersburg and New Hartford, Iowa in May, 2008.
Damage caused by the above-pictured EF5 tornado in Parkersburg, Iowa in May, 2008.
Damage caused by the above-pictured EF5 tornado in Parkersburg, Iowa in May, 2008.

Tornado Alley

There is no official National Weather Service definition of the area delineating Tornado Alley but it is a term that is often used to describe where most tornadoes in the United States occur.

Tornado Alley is located on the Plains between the Rocky and Appalachian Mountains. According to the Storm Prediction Center, 90% of tornadoes hit this region because cold, dry air from Canada and the Rockies meets warm, moist air from the Gulf of Mexico and hot, dry air from the Sonoran Desert, which combines with atmospheric instability to produce intense thunderstorms.

 

map credit: wikipedia
map credit: wikipedia
a tornado over water is called a waterspout (photo from wikipedia)
a tornado over water is called a waterspout (photo from wikipedia)
A multiple-vortex tornado is a type of tornado in which two or more columns of spinning air rotate around a common center (photo from wikipedia)
A multiple-vortex tornado is a type of tornado in which two or more columns of spinning air rotate around a common center (photo from wikipedia)

Fast Facts About Tornadoes

  • Tornadoes can take place in any state in the U.S.
  • Texas has had the most tornadoes, followed by Oklahoma and Kansas
  • The strongest ground level wind speed ever recorded was 318 mph in 1999
  • The current average time to warn people of a coming tornado is 11 minutes
  • The deadliest tornado killed 695 people in 1925
  • 1000 tornadoes occur in the United States every year
  • Typically, tornadoes only last for a couple of minutes
  • On average, tornadoes are around 500 feet across and stay on the ground for 5 miles
  • Tornadoes normally rotate counterclockwise in the northern hemisphere and clockwise in the southern hemisphere
  • Although they can happen any time of the year, peak tornado season in the southern states is March through May; in the northern states, it is late spring through early summer
  • Tornadoes are most likely to occur between 3:00 and 9:00 p.m.
  • The average forward speed of a tornado is 30 mph and can reach speeds up to 70 mph
  • Tornadoes are also called cyclones or twisters

 

Close Call - Storm Chasers in South Dakota

Photograph by Carsten Peter, National Geographic    Heavy clouds hang low over a dilapidated homestead in the Midwest, foretelling a possible tornado.
Photograph by Carsten Peter, National Geographic Heavy clouds hang low over a dilapidated homestead in the Midwest, foretelling a possible tornado.

Have you ever seen a tornado or been in one?

  • Yes and I was so scared
  • Yes and I thought it was cool
  • No and I never want to see a tornado or be in one
  • No but I'd like to see a tornado someday
See results without voting

Tips to Stay Safe During a Tornado

Danger signs of a tornado:

  • Dark, greenish sky
  • Large hail
  • Tornado sirens
  • Large, dark, low-lying cloud
  • Rotating clouds
  • Cloud of approaching debris
  • It is suddenly still and quiet
  • Loud roar like the sound of a freight train

If you are in a building structure such as your home, a shopping center, an apartment building, etc. seek shelter in the basement or cellar. If none such place exists, go to the lowest level and find the center of most interior room (like a hallway, closet, etc.) Get away from corners, windows, doors and outside walls.

If you are in a vehicle, trailer or mobile home get out as quickly as possible and go to the lowest floor of a nearby building.

If you are outside with no protection lie flat in a nearby ditch and cover your head with your hands.

Some things to remember:

  • If you're outside, do not go under an overpass or bridge
  • Don't try to outrun a tornado, especially if you are in a congested or urban area - you are safer outside of your vehicle in the appropriate shelter
  • Be wary of flying debris, which is how most people are injured or die in tornadoes
  • Even if tied down, mobile homes offer little protection from tornadoes
  • Do not try to open windows

Twister - the Movie

Remember Twister? The movie with the flying cow? In the movie, Helen Hunt and Bill Paxton were storm chasers looking for a way to to put their equipment (which they called Dorothy) in the path of a tornado in the hopes that the sensors would fly up into the tornado and collect data. The idea wasn't that far-fetched as it was based on work done by the National Severe Storms Laboratory (NSSL) in the mid 1980s. They called their equipment TOTO (TOtable Tornado Observatory).

The NSSL tried for many years to put TOTO in the path of a tornado but had minimal success. They did not however have the sensors to fly up in the tornado, as in the movie. Although they claim, "that is not a bad idea and with all the advances being made in computer technology, we might be able to do that someday."

Amateur Storm Chasers Witness Devastating Tornado

Wadena, Minnesota Tornadoes

Photos of Tornado Destruction in Wadena, Minnesota - photos taken by the Brainder, Minnesota Dispatch and Ron Gramer of Brainerd, Minnesota

Christ still stands. Please pray for all of those affected by these terrible storms.
Christ still stands. Please pray for all of those affected by these terrible storms.

More by this Author


Comments 52 comments

Hello, hello, profile image

Hello, hello, 6 years ago from London, UK

Interesting information, thank you. I think I die just to see it coming.


Cari Jean profile image

Cari Jean 6 years ago from Bismarck, ND Author

Hello, hello, - Thanks for your comment. I had always wanted to see a tornado when I was younger but now that I'm older and a little wiser and have a daughter to look after it doesn't really appeal to me anymore!


DeBorrah K. Ogans profile image

DeBorrah K. Ogans 6 years ago

Cari Jean, Very thorough informative hub on tornadoes! Amazing how so much destruction can occur in a matter of minutes... Great video! Thank you for sharing, Peace & Blessings!


Cari Jean profile image

Cari Jean 6 years ago from Bismarck, ND Author

DeBorrah - thanks for your comment. I was unaware before writing this hub that tornadoes are the most violent type of natural disaster. I learned a lot and know I would never want to be in one's path.


Pamela99 profile image

Pamela99 6 years ago from United States

Cari, This is a very interesting hub. I remember being concerned about tornadoes when living in Ohio as we would get them occasionally, not we live in FL and worry about hurricanes, although Jacksonville has been fortunate. Those pictures you posted were scary to even look at as te destruction is so awful. Great hub.


Ken R. Abell profile image

Ken R. Abell 6 years ago from ON THE ROAD

Thank you for all this good info, Cari Jean. Not sure I wanted to know some of it. :>) Tornado warnings are part & parcel of my life here in southern Ohio, as they were in Illinois. Thankfully, I've only seen them from afar.

Great Hub.


Cari Jean profile image

Cari Jean 6 years ago from Bismarck, ND Author

Pamela - Yeah, I'm not sure which I would worry about more - tornadoes or hurricanes. I just saw a bunch of photos on facebook of the damage the tornadoes caused in Wadena, Minnesota caused - very sad.


Cari Jean profile image

Cari Jean 6 years ago from Bismarck, ND Author

Ken - The night after I wrote this hub we had a terrible thunderstorm roll through here and I couldn't sleep because I was worred about tornadoes! Thanks for your comment.


SilverGenes 6 years ago

You have some really good information in your hub. I've always known about lying down in an open ditch but I wonder if I would actually do it when faced with a choice. The overpass seems safer even though it isn't. I think it would be a terrible feeling to be out in the open. Scary stuff!


coffeesnob 6 years ago

Ummm I think I would rather chase rabbits. Mental note....never, never, never chase tornados.

Cool article.

CS


prasetio30 profile image

prasetio30 6 years ago from malang-indonesia

Good information from you. It look horrible. I just saw tornadoes from my television. One things that impressed me much was "Twister" movie. Do you remember this movie? it describe how this disaster destroy everything in front of it. Among tornadoes classification I think we all know that EF5 (incredible tornado) is the biggest tornado. I saw it in Twister movie. Wow.....I can't say anything. I hope we always safe when it come.

Thank you very much. I really enjoy all information inside this hub, include the picture and the video. Absolutely amazing. I can't imagine it happen in my country. But I hope the best for us. I rate this Up.

Prasetio


Cari Jean profile image

Cari Jean 6 years ago from Bismarck, ND Author

SilverGenes - It is scary stuff - I knew you were supposed to find a ditch but I also thought that an underpass was safe as well - guess that isn't the case. Hopefully we'll never actually have to decide what to do!


Cari Jean profile image

Cari Jean 6 years ago from Bismarck, ND Author

coffeesnob - lol! Those storm chasers are crazy! Especially the amateur ones who don't really know what they are doing. Thanks for your comment.


Cari Jean profile image

Cari Jean 6 years ago from Bismarck, ND Author

prasetio30 - thanks so much for your comment. Yes, the EF5 tornado is the strongest and most violent with wind speeds over 200 mph. (sorry don't know what that converts to in kilometers). But I wouldn't even want to be in an EF0 tornado. Thanks for rating this hub up! I really appreciate it.


Joni Douglas profile image

Joni Douglas 6 years ago

Great information on tornadoes. In Michigan we get them as well and have learned not to take them lightly. The tornado you highlight in Minnesota made it's way here and caused considerable damage but not nearly like what happened there. Thanks and voted up.


askpowers 6 years ago

I am really afraid of tornadoes, but was not aware of the information you have shared here.

Really nice hub and information.

Keep it up

Regards,


Cari Jean profile image

Cari Jean 6 years ago from Bismarck, ND Author

Joni Douglas - thanks for your comment and for rating this up. Sorry to hear about the damage in Michigan. Hopefully you won't be encountering anymore storms like that this summer. I do like storns but not when they become dangerous and life-threatening.


Cari Jean profile image

Cari Jean 6 years ago from Bismarck, ND Author

askpowers - Thanks so much for your comment and your encouragement.


Lady_E profile image

Lady_E 6 years ago from London, UK

Interesting Hub and the pictures are very moving. I don't know which is worse - Earthquake or Tornado. Its good that you included the danger signs. Take care.

Ps. Congrats on your 100 Score. :)


Cari Jean profile image

Cari Jean 6 years ago from Bismarck, ND Author

Lady_E - thanks so much for your comment. It's always good to hear from you. I think and earthquake would be scary as well - I guess there are really no danger signs for those are there?


prettydarkhorse profile image

prettydarkhorse 6 years ago from US

hi, this is awesome piece of information and the images are so touching, Thanks, Maita


Cari Jean profile image

Cari Jean 6 years ago from Bismarck, ND Author

Maita - thanks so much for your comment. I really appreciate hearing from you!


bayoulady profile image

bayoulady 6 years ago from Northern Louisiana,USA

Great piece! Excellent information and photos.Tornados are very frequent in Louisiana, as we live in another tornado alley named Dixie Alley. It is something I will never feel calm ,cool, and collected about. Most of us in my area don't have a storm cellar. I wish I could afford to build one.


juneaukid profile image

juneaukid 6 years ago from Denver, Colorado

A very informative and very helpful hub for all American especially those in Tornado Alley. I remember one very unusual tornado that struck the Snowy Range Mountains above 10,000 feet elevation back in the 1970's. It tore down a wide-swath of spruce and fir trees within sight of alpine snowfields!


Cari Jean profile image

Cari Jean 6 years ago from Bismarck, ND Author

bayoulady - Isn't it common in the south to not have basements or storm cellars? We always had a cellar growing up so that gave me a sense of security but now we live on the second floor or an apt. - not so secure! Thank you so much for your comment.


Cari Jean profile image

Cari Jean 6 years ago from Bismarck, ND Author

juneaukid - Wow! That is a pretty unusual tornado! Sounds like they can pretty much strike anywhere if the conditions are right. Thanks for your comment.


Silver Poet profile image

Silver Poet 6 years ago from the computer of a midwestern American writer

Very interesting hub. Weather can do some mighty unusual things.


bayoulady profile image

bayoulady 6 years ago from Northern Louisiana,USA

CARI JEAN : I don't know very many people in LA and MS that have storm shelters. Quite different in Arkansas, where as you drive by homes you will notice shelters beside the house, and I suspect if you don't see them, it may be because they have a basement. You would think we would get a clue,huh...sigh...I would love to have one, but they are extremely costly.


Cari Jean profile image

Cari Jean 6 years ago from Bismarck, ND Author

Silver Poet - love your avatar! It really is amazing what our weather can do. Thanks for your comment!


Cari Jean profile image

Cari Jean 6 years ago from Bismarck, ND Author

bayoulady - thanks for the info. It does surprise me that those in LA and MS don't have storm cellars. I think the main reason people in the northern plains have them is because they also used the cellars for storing their crops. I know our cellar stored our potatoes. And with people who live in the city it's just a given to have a basement underneath the house.


katiem2 profile image

katiem2 6 years ago from I'm outta here

WOW Cari Jean, I'm fascinated with storms and the like, this is a fantastic collection and detailed information on Tornadoes. Great reading and viewing. God Bless everyone in those storms and may be well. Whew...


Cari Jean profile image

Cari Jean 6 years ago from Bismarck, ND Author

katiem2 - Thank you so much for your comment, I really appreciate it. I've always been fascinated with storms as well - although some of them can be a little nerve-wracking too!


agvulpes profile image

agvulpes 6 years ago from Australia

Wow your photos scare the dickens out of me and are awesome in their powerful message!

I did experience what was described as a Tornado here in Australia (They are very rare here) and your description of the noise is very apt. We thought it was a 747 jet coming into land. This happened at night and the whole effect was terrifying. Fortunately our house was not even touched but some in the area were destroyed.

A man's wallet was found about 15 miles from his house and he swore that it was on his table before his house just disintegrated around him!

An awesome Hub!


Cari Jean profile image

Cari Jean 6 years ago from Bismarck, ND Author

agvulpes - thanks for your comment. Glad to hear you and your home survived that tornado. We have had lots of tornadic activity this summer but thankfully no lives lost and not too much damage. It is amazing how a tornado can destroy something then not even touch the next thing nearby. They are definitely an intersting facet of nature.


Malcolm_Cox profile image

Malcolm_Cox 5 years ago from Newcastle, England

wow, unusual to get a hub that entertains and informs. This one does it beautifully!


Cari Jean profile image

Cari Jean 5 years ago from Bismarck, ND Author

Malcolm_Cox - thanks for your comment and encouraging words!


Golfgal profile image

Golfgal 5 years ago from McKinney, Texas

The pictures are worth a thousand words....wow.


Cari Jean profile image

Cari Jean 5 years ago from Bismarck, ND Author

Golfgal - thanks so much for your comment - yes the pics are pretty powerful - it is amazing how destructive these storms can be.


James 5 years ago

Great info and very details, nice hub, thumbs up :)


Cari Jean profile image

Cari Jean 5 years ago from Bismarck, ND Author

Thanks, James for your comment.


jponiato profile image

jponiato 5 years ago from Mid-Michigan

This is a great hub, which I'm linking to in my next one because of your in-depth coverage.


Cari Jean profile image

Cari Jean 5 years ago from Bismarck, ND Author

jponiato - thanks so much for your comment and for the backlink!


ellahall2011 profile image

ellahall2011 5 years ago

Great information about tornado. Thanks for sharing.


Cari Jean profile image

Cari Jean 5 years ago from Bismarck, ND Author

ellahall2011 - thanks so much for your comment.


Purple Perl profile image

Purple Perl 4 years ago from Bangalore,India

Thanks for sharing the pics & info, Cari Jean. Tornadoes are so destructive.


Cari Jean profile image

Cari Jean 4 years ago from Bismarck, ND Author

Purple Perl - thanks so much for your comment. I'm thankful to have never been in a tornado and hope that I never am!


tievra 4 years ago

i haven't seen a tornado before but i would like to see one on line some where but i would not like to see one in real life i would where my mother to death about it.


Cari Jean profile image

Cari Jean 4 years ago from Bismarck, ND Author

tierva - thanks for your comment and for sharing your thoughts. I have seen funnel clouds but not an actual tornado - it would be super scary.


Joshua Jimenez 4 years ago

I like to see these tornadoes because they are so cool.but some times tornadoes can be very damaging and very violent because of their violent winds I people should always be warned of the tornado that is near their area.


Joshua Jimenez 4 years ago

Hi I wanted to say that chasing tornadoes is a cool hobby but also dangerous because of their destructive winds although people should always take shelter I mean these storms are fantastic and dangerous because of their violent winds I think people should take shelter immediately because these storms can kill anyone that is outside.


Cari Jean profile image

Cari Jean 4 years ago from Bismarck, ND Author

Joshua - thanks so much for your comment. It is good they are finder more effective ways to warn people of coming tornadoes. I agree with you that people should take shelter immediately when in the path or a tornado and if you go out and chase them, you better know what you are doing!


pocono foothills profile image

pocono foothills 2 years ago from Easton, Pennsylvania

I keep telling my wife that our retirment mission is to sell our house, buy an RV and travel until one of us dies. She keeps telling me that old people should stay at home, sit in rocking chairs, and watch TV or knit. She says I'll park the RV in tornado alley and we'll all end up in the Land of Oz.

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