Follow these tornado facts to keep you and loved ones safe

Direct Energy, December 22, 2023

7 minute read

Follow these tornado facts to keep you and loved ones safe

Direct Energy, December 22, 2023

7 minute read

What is a tornado?

A tornado is a strong rotating column of air, usually formed from a thunderstorm that makes contact with the ground. The winds of a tornado can move at speeds of over 200 mph making them incredibly powerful and some of the most destructive forces in nature.

Illustration of a tornado
Illustration of a tornado
Illustration of a tornado

How do tornadoes form?

  1. Thunderstorms or hailstorms release energy and strong winds.
  2. The strong winds and energy begin to rotate and form a column of spinning air called the mesocyclone.
  3. The mesocyclone meets warm air moving up and cold air moving down and creates a funnel.
  4. The funnel, made up of dust, air, and debris reaches the ground and a tornado is formed.

When do tornadoes usually occur?

Tornadoes can happen at any time during the year, but they occur most frequently in the rainy seasons of spring and summer when severe storms, needed to form the tornadoes, occur more regularly. Most tornadoes occur in the late afternoon, between 4 pm and 9 pm.

Where do tornadoes usually occur?

Tornadoes usually occur in the central part of the United States. This area in the Midwest starts in North Dakota and stretches all the way down through South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, and ends in Texas.

How dangerous are tornadoes?

Tornadoes are measured on the EF or Enhanced Fujita scale. On the EF scale the higher the number a tornado is ranked between 0-5 the higher the wind speeds are and consequently the more damage it can do.


EF MPH for a 3 second wind gust Damage
0 65-85 Bent road signs and broken tree limbs
1 86-110 Cars moved around the road
2 111-135 Uprooted trees
3 136-165 Winds can pick up cars and overturn trains
4 166-200 House roofs blown off and houses completely leveled
5 Over 200 Whole houses could be uplifted

What are the hazards associated with a tornado?

The high winds of tornadoes are the largest threat. These winds can break down houses in seconds as well as displace cars and other items. Flying debris is another large threat involved with tornadoes. Everyday objects left outside and lifted by the strong winds become projectile missiles as they are thrown about at dangerously high speeds.

To keep safe from these hazards, make sure you are in a secure building, on the lowest possible floor, in a room without windows.

What does the sky look like before a tornado?

Blue - The air around you and your home might get very still due to the low-pressure vacuum the tornado has created. This is the calm before the storm.

Green - The sky might look greenish in one area and clear blue on the other side. Experts aren't decided on why the sky appears green, but some theories suggest it's the light interacting with the water in the air.

Dark Brown - If you see dark brown clouds in the sky this could indicate a tornado is already on the ground.

Grey - If it is raining heavily the tornado may be hidden by the rain. In this situation listen carefully, if you hear a loud roaring then a tornado could be heading your way.

How to prepare for a tornado

Tornadoes can strike relatively quickly leaving little time to prepare. Because of this, it's best to have a plan made in advance that you and your family members can act on in an instance.

Do Don't
Do pay attention to severe thunderstorm warnings as these are the types of storms that tornadoes develop from. Don't forget to predetermine an emergency meet up point and communication plan with your family.
Do pickup all items left outside and bring them into your home to minimize losing them in the wind and the threat of flying debris. Don't forget to shut and fasten all exterior doors and windows.
Do bring in your pets and family in from outside.Do bring in your pets and family in from outside. Don't stay inside a mobile home, instead find a shelter nearby or even a low area outside.
Do find an interior room on the lowest floor inside your home without windows to stay in during the storm. And close all doors inside leading to that room. Don't stop in your car under bridges or overpasses.
Do turn on your radio or TV to get weather updates.

Don't try and outrun a tornado, it's better to leave your vehicle and seek shelter.

What should I do with my pet during a tornado?

To the best of your ability find your animals and bring them into the same safe room or storm shelter as you and your family. Even if your pet is usually an outside animal bring them in with you. Don't forget to grab a favorite treat or toy to keep them calm during the storm.

How should I prepare kids for a tornado?

The most important thing you can do is plan ahead and keep calm. Making sure your kids know what to do in case of a tornado will help them deal with the stress of the event more smoothly. Important things to have prepared are where to meet, which room in the house will be the safe room, and what they should bring with them. Bring them into the safe room and provide a comfort item to calm them.

What do tornado sirens mean?

Siren meanings vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, and you should check with your local authorities to determine your own. Each time you hear an outdoor siren, you should enter your home and tune into your local station to get more information. Stay tuned to your local source of information as not all jurisdictions use an "all-clear" siren at the end. Stay in your safe protective room until you are certain that all the danger has passed.

What is a storm shelter?

A storm shelter is a safe room that provides protection for you and your family in the event of natural disasters. Storm shelters can either be public, (provided by the city) or private and part of someone's home. If you are interested in building your own personal storm shelter you can either purchase one pre-made or follow closely the instructions provided by FEMA on their website. If you don't have a storm shelter or time to get to one, simply find a windowless room on the lowest floor of a secure building. This is the safest place during a tornado.

What's the difference between a tornado and a cyclone?

Venn diagram showing the similarities and differences between a tornado and cyclone
Venn diagram showing the similarities and differences between a tornado and cyclone
Venn diagram showing the similarities and differences between a tornado and cyclone

Fun facts about tornadoes:

  1. The United States sees more tornadoes than any other part of the world. Over 1000 a year!
  2. Tornado families, or group of tornadoes, can travel incredibly long distances and some have even traveled 320 miles and lasted 5 ½ hours.
  3. A tornado with winds over 100 mph can level a home in 4 seconds.
  4. Tornadoes ranked 3 on the EF scale can overturn trains weighing between 20-120 tons.


"Tornado Scale." Tornado Facts and Information, TornadoFacts.Net,

"How are tropical cyclones different from tornadoes?" weatherstationpro

"Preparing for a Tornado." Missouri Storm Aware,,

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