Living in Tornado Alley can be a fulfilling and rewarding experience, but it is also filled with a number of challenges. The biggest challenge of all might just be the weather that is experienced in every season. More than 1,000 tornadoes strike the United States, on average, every year and a majority of them strike in Tornado Alley.
About 17 million people live in Tornado Alley right now, which encompasses 500k square miles over portions of eight states.
Tornado Alley Facts
Every year, when winter begins to turn into spring, the conditions become right for severe weather to develop in this region of the country. You will often find scientists, extreme weather chasers, and those who love seeing a good tornado all congregating in Tornado Alley. That’s because they are aware of many of the facts that you will find below.
- Although Tornado Alley only covers 15% of the United States, it accounts for about 30% of all the confirmed tornadoes that were tracked from 1950-2012.
- The total number of tornadoes that were tracked during this period of time in Tornado Alley: 16,674.
- Tornado Alley sees about 270 tornadoes every year.
- The strongest tornado classification is an F5 or EF5 and there have been 59 total confirmed tornadoes of this size in US history.
- The number of F5 or EF5 tornadoes that have been confirmed in Tornado Alley: 22.
- Of the 5,587 fatalities that were associated with tornado activity in the US between 1950-2012, 1,110 of them occurred in Tornado Alley.
- 24% of the total injuries that are tornado related occur within this highly active region of the United States.
Although tornadoes can happen anywhere, they are most common within Tornado Alley because of two specific regions: the Rocky Mountains to the west and the convergence of warmer air that comes from the East. This creates the atmosphere cyclonic activity that is required for tornadoes to form. When you see where a majority of tornadoes form in the United States, most occur between the Rocky Mountains and the Appalachian Mountains. These plains might be America’s Heartland and they may provide large quantities of the world’s food supply, but they also provide the perfect conditions for a dangerous and destructive tornado. You live there at your own risk.
How Costly Are The Tornadoes Of Tornado Alley?
- 70% of the costliest tornadoes that have occurred in the United States since 1950 have happened in Tornado Alley.
- The costliest tornado of all occurred in 2011 in Joplin, MO, causing $2.8 billion worth of damage to the town.
- When all severe thunderstorms are included, the average amount of insured damage that occurs annually is $7.78 billion.
- Although a majority of tornadoes tend to happen between April and July, Tornado Alley is one of the few places on the planet where deadly and highly destructive tornadoes have occurred in every month of the year.
- The average lead time for a tornado warning in Tornado Alley is just 13 minutes.
- In 1980, the average lead time for a confirmed tornado warning was just 5 minutes.
As technology as improved, our responses to severe weather have been able to improve as well. This can be seen in the increases in warning times, but also in how we can all respond to this natural disaster when it occurs. This means fewer lives are lost, but it could be that more damage also occurs. Carrying insurance to prevent against tornado losses in Tornado Alley is a must for every home and business owner. With billions at stake and no real way to prevent a tornado from striking down, an entire life can be ruined in just seconds with this deadly storm event. Insurance won’t replace memories and keepsakes, but it can help build a new home.
Why Are Tornadoes So Devastating
- In May 2003, the greatest number of tornadoes in one calendar month occurred in the United States, with 543 confirmed tornadoes tracked.
- The highest recorded wind speed from a tornado is 302 mph.
- In one 24 hour period in 1974, Tornado Alley saw a record outbreak of 148 individual tornadoes being spawned by storm cells.
- The United States sees 10 times more tornadoes than any other country in the world – Canada is in second place, with just 100 tornadoes annually.
- If Tornado Alley was its own country, it would lead the world in the amount of tornadoes that it sees every year.
- Texas sees the most tornadoes annually, with an average of 155 reported. This would also make it a world leader in tornadic occurrences.
- In 2013 there were 55 tornado-related deaths in the United States.
Even though people living in Tornado Alley are well prepared to ride out a severe storm, a large tornado leaves nothing but damage in its wake. When a storm cell comes down on top of a home, there really isn’t anything that can be done to prevent damage from occurring. With so many tornadoes occurring because of the natural topography that exists, especially when compared to the rest of the global statistics on tornadoes, we must ask ourselves if enough is being done to protect the lives and properties that are affected by these severe storms every year. Are there preventative measures that we could create that could save homes and lives?
What You Know About Tornadoes Could Save Your Life
- Tornadoes have occurred on every continent, except for Antarctica.
- Supercell tornadoes are most likely to occur between 3pm-9pm during the day.
- Tornadoes have been known to destroy houses, but leave light objects behind like plates, glasses, lamps, and even paper undisturbed on tables.
- A tornado in Missouri in 1896 was able to drive a piece of wood through an iron bridge.
- Tornadoes can last for just seconds, but they can also stay on the ground for more than an hour.
- A 1925 tornado carved a mile-wide path through 3 states that was 220 miles long, staying on the ground for more than 3 hours.
There is a good chance that you can survive a tornado today, but only if you know what that tornado is going to do. Although weather by its nature is unpredictable, tornadoes do tend to track in similar ways and last for about 10 minutes at a time. Unless you live in Antarctica, there is always a chance that a tornado could head your way. Living in Tornado Alley just increases your chances of experiencing a tornado on any given day. By being able to get to safety in an interior room, away from windows, and with head protection in place, even severe storms that come down on top of a home are survivable today. By being prepared in the late afternoon and evening hours, especially in places where tornadoes are common, you can see the storm building and take shelter before a tornado warning is even issued.
Tornadoes Are Scary, But They Don’t Have To Be Threatening
- Only 2% of all tornadoes result in a fatality and most of them hit sparsely populated areas in Tornado Alley when they come down.
- In Tornado Alley, these storms are known for killing on average 80 people and leaving a trail of devastation in their wake at a cost of $300 million.
- Tornadoes can occur when a warm front meets a cold front, forming a thunderstorm, which then can spawn a tornado when the storm cells begin to rotate around each other.
- Most tornadoes will travel from the southwest to the northeast, although some tornadoes have been known to move backwards and others have changed direction almost immediately.
- Tornadoes are actually transparent. It is the debris and dust that they pick up after striking the ground that gives them their color.
- Most tornadoes move at less than 35 miles per hour.
- The path of damage that is caused by a tornado is usually less than 1,600 feet wide.
- The development of a tornado emergency warning helps to communicate the fact that a large tornado is moving toward a heavily populated area.
Knowledge is what turns a scary situation into a manageable one. When you know what a tornado is likely to do, then you can prepare for it in an effective way. By knowing the normal path that a tornado will follow, you can keep safety in an appropriate corner of the house where debris will come over you instead of at you. Although there is no real predictor that can guarantee safety when a tornado hits the ground, as long as you can find shelter and be in an interior room or under the ground, a tornado does not have to be scary at all.
How Can You Stay Safe In Tornado Alley?
- The easiest way to be safe in Tornado Alley is to always be alert to changing weather conditions and look for approaching storms.
- Storms that will produce tornadoes will often produce a sky that looks very dark and may have a green tint to it.
- Large hail is commonly associated with severe storms that can produce tornadoes.
- Dark clouds that are hanging low and have rotational aspects to them may be within seconds of spotting a tornado.
- Many tornadoes produce a loud roar because of the wind speeds, similar to the sound of standing next to a freight train.
- Even with our advanced system of warnings, a tornado can strike very quickly and without any warning still today.
- Make sure you have enough emergency supplies, including water and food, that you can hold out until help arrives if a tornado strikes.
- Mobile homes and vehicles provide zero protection from tornadoes.
- If you are caught outside when a tornado is about to strike, lying flat in a depression in a place of low ground that is not an area for flooding [like a storm drain] can give you a chance to survive.
The problem with a tornado is that it can catch someone completely off guard. When people are startled, they don’t always make the right decision. Emotions have replaced logic for a certain amount of time. That’s why knowing about the statistics of Tornado Alley and being able to respond in a safe way can help someone even if they have become startled by a tornado. That is because the information allows for planning to take place before the severe weather incident. This pre-planning kicks in and overrides the emotions so that effective decisions can take place.
Could You Survive Tornado Alley?
- Gas leaks and broken electrical lines are common after a tornado strikes. Never strike a match or create an open flame after a tornado has gone through.
- If someone has been injured by a tornado, do not attempt to move them. Contact emergency services and listen for emergency information over the radio.
- You will not outrun a tornado. Hiding under a bridge is not safe because you could be struck by flying debris.
- A heavy blanket can help protect you against flying shards of glass that could be flying through the air at over 300 mph.
- Always make an inventory of your possessions so that in case a tornado does hit, you will have evidence of what is covered by your insurance policy.
A tornado can change the landscape of a community, but it doesn’t have to scar a family that is living in Tornado Alley. With a good basement shelter, a root cellar, or other windowless options, riding out a tornado is just a way of life in this highly active part of the United States. By knowing these statistics and facts about Tornado Alley, you and everyone else will have a fighting chance to overcome the challenges of this severe weather if it occurs around you.