Since 2001, there has been an average of 1,200 tornadoes per year in the United States. While the majority are concentrated in “Tornado Alley,” tornadoes can occur in all states, any day of the year, and at any time of day. On average, tornadoes are responsible for 60 deaths per year and millions of dollars in damage.
America’s most deadly tornado struck on March 18, 1925, when 747 people were killed in a line of storms that raged through Missouri, Illinois and Indiana. The tornado that struck Joplin, Missouri, May 22, 2011, is setting new records. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) maintains Tornado Statistics that can be viewed on their website.

Tornadoes and Tornado Impacts

The original F-scale was the method used to determine the strength of tornadoes. It was developed by Dr. T. Fujita in 1971. The basis of the scale is the type of damage observed, not wind speed. Though there are estimated wind speeds associated with the scale. The new EF scale, while it still conforms to the original F scale, now has 28 damage indicators, which conforms much better to current building materials and techniques. And the older F scale has had its misuses over the years, such as using the F scale by the appearance of the tornado cloud, oversimplification of the damage description, and, too much reliance on the estimated wind speeds. It is important to remember, the size of a tornado is not necessarily an indication of its intensity. Large tornadoes can be weak, and small tornadoes can be violent.

Dr. Fujita recognized that improvement was necessary. He published his memoirs called Mystery of Severe Storms in 1992 updating the Fujita Tornado Scale to include an estimate of f-scale damage then selecting the F-scale as a combination of f-scales and types of structural damage. The end result, is called the Enhanced Fujita Scale, or EF Scale and used by the National Weather Service in storm damage assessment as of February 2007.

Opportunities for Extension to Reduce Impacts

Tornado Safety

It is very important to be prepared in case of a tornado. If weather conditions are favorable for the development of tornadoes in your area, then a tornado watch is issued. If a tornado is spotted on the ground, or is indicated by Doppler Radar, then a tornado warning is issued. In either case, it is imperative to have a plan of action.
In the case of a tornado watch, it is important to stay tuned to your local weather reports in case the weather should take a turn for the worse. Be prepared with a disaster supplies kit. It should include: batteries, flashlights, candles, matches, bottled water, a first aid kit, a NOAA weather radio, and other additional items (FEMA).

When a tornado warning is issued it is necessary to take appropriate shelter immediately. Some considerations are as follows:

1. If you are in a sturdy structure, such as a home or office building, get to the basement or designated severe weather shelter as quickly as possible. If there is no basement, then go to an internal room on the lowest floor. Stay away from windows.
2. If you are in a mobile home, try to get to a sounder structure. If there is no time, go to the center of your mobile home and protect yourself as best as possible.
3. If you are in a public setting (such as a mall, sporting event, school) listen to the people in charge as they have a plan of action designed to keep everyone safe
4. If you are in a car, try to get to a building as quickly as possible in a direction away from the tornado. NEVER PARK OR HIDE UNDER A BRIDGE OVERPASS. If you cannot safely outrun a tornado, or you are stuck in traffic, get out of your vehicle and get as far from the roadway as possible. Lie flat in a low spot until the tornado has passed. It is important not to stay in your vehicle since the violent winds can easily pick cars up and disperse them.
5. If you are outside (golfing, plowing) and are too far from a building, then the best course of action is to lie in a low ditch.
6. Tornadoes can form over water as well, and when they do they are called waterspouts. In this case, try to get to land while moving in the opposite direction of the waterspout. Once on land, look for an appropriate shelter.
After the tornado has passed, it is important to try to remain calm. People may require medical assistance. Be aware of downed power lines, broken gas pipes, and unsound structures.

Tornado Resource Links

FAQ About Tornadoes – Storm Prediction Center
Tornado Facts – Tornado Project Online
Tornado Tips and Recovery – Purdue University Extension
Tornado/Storm Recovery – University of Missouri Extension
Tornado Preparedness and Response – CDC

Additional Resources

nowCOAST is a web mapping web page providing links to thousands of real-time coastal observations and NOAA forecasts of interest to the marine community. The web page serves as a “one-stop shopping” web site to real-time coastal information from a variety of Internet sites both within and outside of NOAA. nowCOAST is designed to be a planning aid to assist recreational and commercial mariners, coastal managers, HAZMAT responders, computer modelers, and marine educators to discover and display real-time information for their particular needs and geographic area of interest.
The page can be accessed by going here.

The NOAAWatch Web site is a web site offering information about ongoing environmental events, and explains the role of NOAA in prediction, monitoring, and recovery from environmental hazards. It provides public access to current information on a number of environmental threats ranging from oil spills, to hurricanes and tsunamis, to space weather.

The page can be accessed by going here.
NWS/SPC’s Severe Weather Information
Tom Priddy, EDEN POC for the University of Kentucky, has made available nationwide severe weather Web pages. By organizing information from the National Weather Service and the Storm Prediction Center, Priddy has made it possible for you to easily access real time severe weather information for your state.
The page can be accessed by going here.