The Great Plains of central America are home to the majority of tornadoes, providing a perfect setting for violent thunderstorm formation. Storms form when dry cold air coming south collides with warm moist air moving north in this area, known as Tornado Alley. Tornado Alley is a name coined by the media and meteorological specialists to describe the region of the United States where the most powerful tornadoes occur. Parts of Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota, Indiana, Missouri, Iowa, Illinois, and Ohio are commonly referred to as Tornado Alley. These states are among the most vulnerable to tornadoes in the United States. Tornadoes, on the other hand, have been reported in all 50 states.
Another fun fact, Tornado Alley is one of the strongest storm regions in the world. It is a band of loud thunderstorms approximately 1,000 miles wide stretching from northern Texas to Canada. If you are interested in this unusual area, we have compiled several Tornado Alley facts that will blow your mind. Let’s jump to the list!
1. The Born of Tornado Alley
In 1952, the moniker “Tornado Alley” was first used. It was the name given to a research on severe weather fronts in Oklahoma and Texas conducted by local experts. Ernest Fawbush and Robert Miller of the United States Air Force conducted the original research.
According to a study of tornadoes from 1921 to 1995, this area is home to nearly one-fourth of all significant tornadoes. The name has now gained traction thanks to media outlets, meteorologists, and climatologists, however many people still refer to the area as the “Great Plains Tornado Belt.”
2. Tri State Tornado, The Single Deadliest Tornado
In 1925, the single worst tornado in US history struck. The Tri-State Tornado ripped a mile-wide route through Missouri, Illinois, and Indiana at 60 to 70 miles per hour, destroying a mile-wide path for more than 220 miles. It was virtually undetectable! The tornado’s signature funnel cloud never materialized, but the destruction was substantial. Over 700 people were killed, over 2,000 were injured, and over $16 million in property was lost.
Temperatures in the region were boosted by 10 degrees by a warm front from the Gulf of Mexico. Warm air rushed upward, producing the tornado’s “lifting mechanism,” as forecasters call it today. The united storm system became a tornado-producing spiral, and the gray clouds that had been raining over southeastern Missouri began to turn a threatening black.
3. The EF5 In El Reno Is The Widest Tornado In The US
On May 31, 2013, the largest tornado, an EF5, impacted El Reno, Oklahoma. At its peak, it was 2.6 miles wide in a 30 second span. It was wider than the previous record in May of 2004, a 2.4-mile-wide tornado ripped through Hallam, Nebraska. In addition, winds exceeded 295 mph in this catastrophic EF5 twister.
The tornado was first classified as an EF3 by the weather agency. However, after inspecting the damage and examining data from a “Doppler on Wheels” truck that detects wind speeds remotely, the government raised the rating. The tornado and flooding in the Oklahoma City metropolitan region killed 19 people, including three professional storm chasers.
4. The Worst Tornado Super Outbreak In Dixie Alley
The 2011 Super Outbreak, also known as the Tornado Super Outbreak, was a series of tornadoes that struck sections of the southern, eastern, and central United States on April 26–28, 2011, causing particularly significant damage in Alabama. It was the greatest tornado outbreak in history, with more than 300 tornadoes reported across 15 states, according to preliminary estimates. According to initial estimates, at least 340 people died as a result of the outbreak.
Later, Alabama is also among the states with the most severe tornadoes in the US. Those areas are called Dixie Alley, which refers to a large portion of the lower Mississippi Valley. Dixie Alley has been competing with Tornado Alley in tornado outbreaks since 2011.
5. Tornado Forecast Has 75% False Alarm Cause “Cry Wolf” Effect
In the United States, on average, 75% of tornado warnings are false alarms. When a warning tornado never materializes, it is called a false alarm. According to the notion, if there are too many false alarms, people would eventually dismiss the warnings, creating the “Cry Wolf” effect. Despite the fact that the percentage is still high, scientists and meteorologists are better than ever at forecasting tornadoes.
Tornadoes in the United States do roughly $400 million in damage each year and kill about 70 people on average. Homes and businesses are torn apart by extremely powerful winds. Winds may also rip the bark off trees, collapse bridges, topple trains, send automobiles and trucks flying, and suck all the water out of a riverbed.
6. Cold Air Meets Warm Air Creating Big Tornado
Strong tornadoes are thought to be so common in Tornado Alley because cold, dry air from Canada and the Rocky Mountains collides with warm, moist air from the Gulf of Mexico and hot, dry air from the Sonoran Desert in the southwestern United States.This creates a favorable setting for tornadoes to evolve into supercells and powerful thunderstorms.
A Tornado Alley map often begins in northern Texas and travels north through Oklahoma, central Kansas and Nebraska, and eastern South Dakota, occasionally veering east through Iowa, Missouri, Illinois, and Indiana to western Ohio. Tornadoes can occur at any time of year, but they are most common during the spring and summer months, when thunderstorms are present.
7. Oklahoma City Has The Most Tornadoes
Oklahoma City (OKC) has established a reputation as one of the most tornado-prone cities in the United States due to its enormous land area and location near the center of Tornado Alley. There have only been five periods of more than two years without a tornado in the immediate OKC area since 1950. Oklahoma has a yearly average of 68 tornadoes, which is much higher than the state’s annual normal of 57 tornadoes.
A large temperature spread over a short area is one of the most important factors in tornado generation. The collision between warm, moist air from the Gulf and cold air from the Rockies and Canada makes Oklahoma an ideal breeding ground for tornadoes.
8. Tornado Rarely Hit Big City Due To The Small Area
A building or even a mountain cannot magically detour a tornado. Tornadoes in big cities are rare since the vast expanse of rural landscape in the United States significantly outnumbers the country’s small urban footprint. Urban areas are small in comparison to the rest of the world. Urban areas make up about 3% of the world’s land surface. Open land is where you’ll find the highest tornado frequencies, therefore most tornadoes will spend the most of their lives there.
9. The Peak Tornado Season
Tornado season is the time of year when the United States experiences the most tornadoes. From May through early June, the southern Plains, including Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas, see their peak tornado season. On the Gulf Coast, it arrives earlier in Spring.
Between 1991 and 2020, there were an average of 1,333 twisters per year across the country, with 54 percent of them occurring between April and June. Tornadoes have historically been most active in May, with an average of 294 twisters every year. The following months, April and June, had an average of 212 tornadoes each.
10. Dust Devil, The Mini Tornado
A dust devil is commonly referred to as a mini-tornado. This is a tiny rotating column of air that forms when the temperature of the air rapidly rises above the sun-warmed dirt or pavement. On clear days, they can form and only travel a short distance before evaporating.
Thankfully, the Dust Devil record did not damage anyone. Meanwhile, larger dust devils can have wind speeds of 60 mph or more. Dust devils can be destructive even though they are smaller than tornadoes because they lift dust and other material into the air.
11. Tornado Can Be Heard From 4 Miles Distance
According to Storm Track’s study of data, the average distance at which a tornado becomes audible is 1.5 miles. The maximum distance covered is approximately 4 miles. Only 14 out of 92 tornadoes in the Storm Track research created sound. Tornadoes that are more powerful than weak tornadoes are more likely to create noise, yet some tornadoes are silent.
It can sound like a hiss, a buzz, a roar, or even a freight train depending on the twister and where you’re standing. It is the audible sign of impending doom. Tornadoes, on the other hand, appear to create low-frequency sound waves known as infrasound, which the human ear is unable to detect.
12. The Weakest Tornado In History Cause Death
On the Fujita Scale, an F0 tornado is the weakest. Wind speeds of less than 73 mph characterize an F0. It is high enough to cause damage to chimneys. Branches can be broken off trees, and smaller trees with shallow roots can be uprooted.
Although it is categorized as the weakest, this tornado also can cause death. For instance, a F0 tornado struck Georgia on May 24, 1955, killing three people. Meanwhile, a F0 tornado in Illinois on May 1, 1983, killing two people. Later, in the next three months of the same year, a F0 tornado killed two individuals in Minnesota.
13. Tornado Hit Skyscraper
Tornadoes have struck skyscrapers in the past, most notably the 35-story Bank One Tower in Fort Worth in 2000. The glass skin and several inside walls were mostly damaged, not the steel structure. The surface of Bank One was left with a sieve-like texture for 2 years, but it was repaired.
Theoretically, skyscrapers are thought to be structurally solid enough to resist even the most powerful tornadoes. High winds, air pressure oscillations, and flying debris, on the other hand, will shatter their windows and maybe tear the external walls apart.
14. Tornado Alley Has Shifted To The Southeast US
Tornado Alley could be moving from the Midwest’s Great Plains to the Mississippi River Valley. In recent decades, the region of the United States where tornadoes are most common has shifted to the Southeast. Eastern Texas and Oklahoma, as well as Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, and sections of Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois, and Missouri, make up this “New Tornado Alley.”
There are a variety of causes driving the shift to the Southeast United States. Tornadoes have become more common in this part of the country as a result of growing population density, improved equipment for detecting tornadoes, and tropical storms along the coast. Droughts in the Midwest also play a role in Tornado Alley’s temporary shift in location.
15. The World’s Fastest Tornado
The 1999 Bridge Creek–Moore storm which is also known as the May 3 tornado was a big and extraordinarily powerful F5 tornado in which a Doppler on Wheels (DOW) radar recorded. It had the greatest wind speeds ever observed globally at 301 20 miles per hour. The tornado devastated southern portions of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, United States, as well as surrounding suburbs and towns to the south and southwest of the city, during the early evening.
It is considered the strongest tornado ever recorded to have affected the metropolitan area. During its 85-minute lifetime, the tornado traveled 38 miles. In 1991, it destroyed thousands of homes, killed 36 people, and caused $1 billion in damage.