Tornado FAQs

Tornado FAQs


What is a Tornado?

Tornadoes are swirling, violent columns of air that extend from a thunderstorm down to the ground. These violent air columns can be powerful enough to uproot trees, throw automobiles, and rip the roofs off of homes.

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How do Tornadoes Form?

Tornadoes form when there is a supercell thunderstorm (a thunderstorm with a spinning column of air in its center) begins to swell in size, sucking warm air and moisture up toward the supercell and pushing out dry, cold air toward the ground. The updraft of warm air battles with the supercell’s downward push of cold air, causing a spinning funnel cloud into a progressively smaller area which increases the spinning speed. Once this funnel is forced to touch down to the ground, a tornado has formed.


When is Tornado Season?

That depends on where you live. Different areas of the US have different tornado seasons, although tornadoes can and do occur outside these months. In general, tornadoes tend to form between the hours of 4-9 PM.

  • Gulf Coast: April, May
  • Tornado Alley: April, May, June
  • Southern Plains: May, June
  • Northern Plains: June, July


Where is Tornado Alley?

Colloquially known as “Tornado Alley,” the states of Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Iowa, and South Dakota are the states that tend to be most often hit by tornadoes. Note that tornadoes can and do hit other areas outside of Tornado Alley although they tend to be more common in these states.



What’s the Difference Between a Tornado Watch and a Tornado Warning?

A tornado watch alert indicates that the weather conditions are favorable for a tornado to form. It does not mean that a tornado has formed yet.

A tornado warning means that a tornado has been spotted on radar and is posing a serious threat to the surrounding area. If you get a tornado warning, take shelter in your designated safe room immediately.


How is Tornado Strength Measured?

The strength of tornadoes is measured on the Enhanced Fujita Scale (EF-Scale), ranging from weakest EF0 through strongest EF5. Below is an explanation of each level of the EF-Scale and the potential damage each can cause.

EF-Scale RatingWind SpeedsDamage Potential
EF065-85 MPHMinor Damage: Branches on trees may come off and some weak bushes may be uprooted.
EF186-110 MPHModerate Damage: Roof shingles may be ripped off and mobile homes could be overturned.
EF2111-135 MPHConsiderable Damage: Roofs can be torn off of houses and mobile homes may be completely destroyed. Trees may be snapped.
EF3136-165 MPHSevere Damage: Large buildings like office buildings and shopping malls may be completely destroyed. Cars may be lifted off the ground and thrown.
EF4166-200 MPHDevastating Damage: Even well-constructed homes may be completely leveled and destroyed. Cars will be picked up and launched elsewhere.
EF5200+ MPHCatastrophic Damage: Buildings, even well-constructed ones, may be destroyed all the way down to their foundations. Cars and other large objects may end up a mile away from their original locations.


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