Facts about Tornadoes

Facts about TORNADOES:


  • Some facts about tornadoes.
  • What they are
  • How are they classified
  • The dangers associated with them
  • How to determine your RISK Level of them

What is a TORNADO?


A Tornado is a rotating (funnel shaped) column of air that is contact with both a cloud and the surface of the Earth, and is produced by thunderstorms or hurricanes.  The winds in a Tornado can range from 40 mph to over 300 mph.  Forward ground speeds for Tornadoes can range from very slow moving, (a few mph), up to 70 mph.  Tornadoes paths (the damage they cause on the ground) can be up to 2 miles wide and as long as 50 miles or more.  Only Hurricanes and Floods cause more damage than Tornadoes.   Modern technology and meteorology has greatly improved detection and warnings for tornadoes.  But even with today’s modern technology, tornadoes are very unpredictable and the warnings are usually very short.

  • Tornado Watch: Issued when conditions are favorable for the development of Tornadoes.
  • Tornado Warning: Issued when a Tornado is indicated by radar or actually seen.
  • Tornado Emergency: Issued only in extreme situations where a large tornado is on track to hit a populated area.

Some facts about tornadoes: Tornadoes have been recorded in every state of the United States and on every continent – except for Antarctica.  Tornadoes can happen at any time of the year and any time of the day, as long as the conditions are right.  http://www.spc.noaa.gov/faq/tornado/#Climatology

The United States has more tornadoes than any other country and the majority of those Tornadoes occur in an area called Tornado Alley.

There are many different opinions of what exactly encompasses Tornado Alley; probably because the weather patterns change frequently.  But most believe it is a region in the middle of the United States that include the following states:  Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, Missouri, Illinois, and Indiana.  This area sometimes can extend into some of the bordering states depending upon whose definition you are using.


How Tornadoes are classified:


Tornadoes are classified using a F-Scale (named after Dr. Theodore Fujita) which is used to link the damage to the wind speed.  Starting in 2007, the National Weather Service started using an “EF-Scale” (an Enhanced Fujita Scale) which addressed some issues associated with the original scale and takes into consideration various types of structures and modern building codes.



The Dangers Associated with Tornadoes:


1)  Flying Debris is the biggest danger from tornadoes and causes most of the deaths and injuries.  Nails, broken glass, ripped up metal, rocks, building materials, tree branches….any of these things traveling in a wind that is 100mph to 200mph are extremely dangerous.  With an EF5, cars can be picked up and thrown 100’s of feet.

2)  Flotsam are the things on the ground that the tornado picks up and push high up into the air.  After the tornado starts dissipating, all that stuff comes back down.   If the tornado passed over a lake or river, you can even have fish, frogs, etc. falling from the sky.

I grew up in Ohio and saw a couple of tornadoes.  The first tornado I saw was nothing short of amazing; at least at the beginning.  It looked nothing like the “Wizard of Oz” tornado.  This one was just a huge (almost straight wall) column that appeared to be bouncing around in a big field on the side of I-71.  We stopped the car and stood there watching it for about a minute or two and then all of a sudden the bottom of it just lifted up and the whole thing just disappeared into the clouds.  As we stood there looking at each other in amazement, all of a sudden out of nowhere… all of this mud, sticks, rocks, corn stalks, tree branches and other stuff just started falling out of the sky.  Luckily we were able to jump back into the van to safety and it eventually stopped.   “Ah!  Growing up in Ohio.

So, just because the funnels cloud has passed – doesn’t mean that the danger has passed.

3)  Lightning:  Tornadoes are usually associated with large storm cells.  That means that there will be lighting.  With all the wind, friction and everything else going on: a lot of static electricity starts building up – resulting in lightning.

4)  Debris on the ground:  After the tornado passes, people come out in attempt to help neighbors and to assess the damages.   This ground debris left by the tornado can be very sharp and can cause cuts and puncture wounds. Depending upon the debris, some of it may contain hazards chemicals that can poison you.  If you want to help – fine.  But don’t get hurt, because you just added to the number of people who now need assistance.  So, do the right thing – but be careful and know what you are doing.


Watch the video below and pay attention to the ground debris that is lying around. Note the lady’s arms and hands as she looks through the rubble. Ground debris is very dangerous. Avoid it if you can – if you can’t – be very careful.

5)  Broken Utility Lines:  There will be a good chance that gas and water lines will be broken.  Electric lines may be down and sparking.  This combination is the perfect set up for explosions and electrocutions.  Be on the lookout for any down power lines and water.  Assume that all electric lines are energized and do not attempt to handle any of them.  Be able to recognize the smell of gas.  If you smell it – get out of the area immediately and report it.  By all means – do not smoke!


Never underestimate the destructive power of a TORNADO.  They are KILLERS!


On May 21, 2013, an EF5 Tornado 2-mile wide hit the town of Moore, Oklahoma, killing 91 people.

Below is a video clip of the tornado approaching Moore and the results of the impact.

AT Network     https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MmbqZd9Lxgs

Protection from a Tornado.


Think now what your plan will be to protect yourself and loved ones from a Tornado.  Remember the quote  “The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.” Having a plan is better than having no plan.  This is the whole concept of this website.  But having a back-up (or better yet, multiple back-ups) to your plan is even better.   Do your thinking now – because when the event happens – the time for planning is over.  You will only have time to react.  Having a plan allows you to react much faster. And make sure all of your family members know what the plan(s) are!

The best place to protect yourself and family from a Tornado is in a Below Ground Tornado Shelter or an Approved Above Ground Tornado Proof Shelter Room.  If you don’t have one of these types of shelters, the next best place would be your basement followed by your bathroom.  If you choose the basement, try to pick the basement wall (preferably in a corner) that is facing the direction the Tornado is coming from (if you can).   Hopefully, the winds will blow any collapsing debris away from you.  If you can’t determine this – pick any basement corner wall or any wall.  [NOTE:  Use this wall idea ONLY if you are below ground.  If you are above ground a wall can be a dangerous place to be.  Your better off in an interior room away from the walls and windows.]  If you can’t get to a basement wall find some other structures that will offer some type of protection in case the ceiling comes down on you.

If  you choose the bathroom, lay down in the bathtub.  The bathtub will offer some additional protection.  Pull the shower curtain down over you, or if their are towels or any other items that will offer protection – pull them over you.  You want to protect yourself as much as possible from any of the debris that will be falling or flying around.

Think now where the best place is located in your [house, apartment, etc.], which will offer you the best possibility of protection and shelter from a Tornado.    Don’t wait for the Tornado to hit and then try to determine where you are going to go and what you are going to do.  This will only take a few minutes to assess your place and make a decision.  Share this location and plan with the rest of your family and make sure they know what to do.

If you are outside of your house but inside a building when a Tornado hits, think about what internal structures can offer you the best protection. Grocery stores and restaurant may have refrigerators large enough for you to get inside.  Banks vaults can be an excellent shelter.  If none of these internal structures are immediately available, then move away from the walls and windows, and look for some type of structures that you can offer some protection.

Look around and evaluate your place of work and determine which places will offer the best protection from a Tornado.  Again, this will only take a few minutes.  Think if a Tornado would hit, where is a place I can go to protect myself?  What will I do?

If you are located outside and there are no structures available to offer protection when a tornado hits, the best place to be is in a low lying ditch – hopefully you can pick a place that will place your body below the ground surface of the area.  [NOTE:  Obviously be careful if there is water in the ditch.  You don’t want to drown!]  You want the flying debris to pass over you.  Lie down in the ditch, “Face Down”, cover your head and wait for the Tornado to pass.  As soon as the Tornado does pass, immediately look for a place that offers overhead protection, just in case “Flotsam” starts coming down.

After the Tornado has passed; be aware of the dangers (discussed above) you will be faced with during the aftermath.


How To Determine your Risk for Tornadoes.  


We are going to use the following Charts.

#1)    NOAA’s Average Annual Number of Tornadoes per 10,000 square miles in the United States.  Published by NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center.  This map charts out the Average Historical “DENSITY” of Tornadoes per 10,000 Square Miles for the Period: 1991 – 2010.

We chose a DENSITY MAP as a Risk Indicator because some states (like Texas) are so huge that if we just used the Number of Tornadoes that did occur in the state, it would “Skew” the numbers.  So we felt a Density Map would give us a better reading for the individual state’s risk factor of having a Tornado event.

Average Number of EF5 Tornadoes

2)  Disaster Resistant Communities Group Wind Zone Map.  This map indicates the strength of the winds that the Tornadoes are capable of generating.

Wind Zone Map for the US.

Have your Risk Assessment : Probability of a Natural Disaster Occurring Chart out so that we can assign a risk factor for your location.

Step #1:  Find your state on the chart below.  Write down the Risk Chart Factor that appears for your state.

Average Number of Tornadoes


Step #2:  Locate your approximate position on the Wind Zone Map.  If you location is within the RED ZONE, move your Risk Level up by 1 number.

Example:  If you are located in the northern part of Texas within a Red Zone.  Move your Risk Factor up by 1 point to a Number 5:  Very High Risk.   If you are located in the southern part of Texas, outside of a Red Zone – Keep the Risk Factor at 4.

If you are in Indiana or Ohio , you would be better off playing it safe and just make yourself a Risk Factor of 5 and play it safe.

So there you have it.  If you went through these 2 steps – you should have your risk factor for Tornadoes determined.

Write your Risk Factor for a Tornado down on your Risk Assessment: Probability of a Natural Disaster Occurring Chart.


This is what you should be taking away from this module:


  1. Some facts about Tornadoes.
  2. What is a TORNADO.
  3. What are the 3-Levels of TORNADO Warning.
  4. Which areas have the highest probability of being impacted by a TORNADO.
  5. How are TORNADOES Classified.
  6. The Dangers associated with TORNADOES.
  7. How to determine the RISK Level of a TORNADO Impact for a specific location.


Looking for Something Specific?  Try Our Category Listing Below.

In the News!

Your opinion matters to us.  Please enter into the Comment Box any:

  • Questions you have about the topic that were not answered on this page.
  • Suggestions that you think will help fellow and future visitors to this site.
  • Problems you may be having with your Disaster Planning project.
  • Ideas or Topics that you would like us to explore that will bring added value to the Disaster Planning Process.
  • Or any other comments or input that you are willing to offer about this page.

Please provide your name and email address so that we can send a response back to you or if we have any question about your comments.  Your email address will only be used for correspondence between you and Practical Disaster Planning and will not appear on the website.

Thank you for your comment.


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

PREVIOUS: Hurricanes                                                     NEXT: Earthquakes & Tsunamis

Please Share this Page.

Help Your Friends Prepare - It\'s Important!