Tornadoes are nature's most violent storms. Spawned from powerful thunderstorms, tornadoes can cause fatalities and devastate a neighborhood in seconds. A tornado appears as a rotating, funnel-shaped cloud that extends from a thunderstorm to the ground with whirling winds that can reach 300 miles per hour. Damage paths can be in excess of a mile wide and 50 miles long. Every state is at some risk from this hazard.
Some tornadoes are clearly visible, while rain or nearby low-hanging clouds obscure others. Occasionally, tornadoes develop so rapidly that little, if any, advance warning is possible.
Before a tornado hits, the wind may die down and the air may become very still. A cloud of debris can mark the location of a tornado even if a funnel is not visible. Tornadoes generally occur near the trailing edge of a thunderstorm. It is not uncommon to see clear, sunlit skies behind a tornado.
The following are important tornado facts to keep in mind:
- Peak tornado season in the southern states is March - May.
- The average forward speed of a tornado is 30 miles per hour, but may vary from stationary to 70 miles per hour.
- The average tornado moves southwest to northeast, but tornadoes have been known to move in any direction.
- They may appear nearly transparent until dust and debris are picked up or a cloud forms in the funnel.
- They may strike quickly, with little or no warning.
- Tornadoes are most likely to occur 3:00 pm - 9:00 pm, but they can occur at any time.
- Tornadoes can accompany tropical storms and hurricanes as they move onto land.
- Waterspouts are tornadoes that form over water.