Test Your Tornado IQ

Question #1: Your driving and see a tornado, you should:

The correct answer, and only if you can do so safely, is to drive at a 90 degree angle to the tornado's forward direction and attempt to outrun it.   Sometimes it can be very difficult to judge which direction a tornado is traveling, especially to the untrained eye.  If you are at all unsure, pull over to the side of the road and get out of your car!  Get into a ditch or low-lying area and cover your head to protect yourself from flying debris.  Never take shelter beneath an overpass, doing so can be deadly and block emergency traffic.  And never drive into flood waters!

Question #2: The shape and size of the tornado determines how strong it is.

Tornadoes come in all shapes and sizes and one should not depend on how large they are or their shape to determine strength. The only way to determine the strength of the tornado is through damage assessments conducted by the National Weather Service or by taking a direct measurement of wind. During damage assessments, National Weather Service employees look for clues that will tell them how strong the winds were. The wind estimate is then related to the Enhanced-Fujita tornado scale and a tornado intensity level will be assigned. Tornadoes are rated on a scale from EF-0 to EF-5, with EF-5 being the strongest. Merely by looking at the tornado's shape does not tell the whole story. The visible funnel is created by cloud condensation or dirt and debris. Conditions that create the visible funnel will change each time a tornado develops, and therefore one can not use this method reliably.

Question #3: Tornadoes in Tornado Alley only happen in the spring.

Spring is a very busy time for tornadoes in Tornado Alley due to the frequency of clashing weather systems during that time of year.  But, the fall is also a busy time for tornadoes in Tornado Alley.  In fact, the truth is that tornadoes can happen at any time, anywhere on Earth, when the correct conditions are present!

Question #4: Tornadoes Never Hit the Same Place Twice

There are many documented cases of tornadoes hitting the same location, or very close to the same location.  The town of Cordell Kansas had a tornado hit on May 20th three years in a row (1916, 1917, and 1918)!  In Guy Arkansas, three tornadoes hit the same church on the same day!

Question #5: When a Tornado Watch is issued, it means:

A Watch is issued when weather conditions are favorable for the development of severe thunderstorms or tornadoes.  If certain conditions are monitored that provide atmospheric conditions that tornadoes can form in, a tornado watch will be issued.  If not, but conditions are favorable for severe thunderstorms that are not expected to produce tornadoes, a severe thunderstorm watch is issued.

Question #6: On average, how many tornadoes occur in the USA per year?

According to the NOAA, In terms of absolute tornado counts, the United States leads the list, with an average of over 1,000 tornadoes recorded each year. Canada is a distant second, with around 100 per year. Other locations that experience frequent tornado occurrences include northern Europe, western Asia, Bangladesh, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, China, South Africa, and Argentina. In fact, the United Kingdom has more tornadoes, relative to its land area, than any other country. Fortunately, most UK tornadoes are relatively weak.

Question #7: Big cities and their tall buildings are protected from tornadoes.

Big cities and their immediate surrounding areas are not protected from tornadoes. In fact...many cities across the United States have been hit directly within recent times such as Miami... Oklahoma City...Houston...Fort Worth...and Nashville. Even Salt Lake City has been directly hit. Utah only experiences a few tornadoes per year...but they can strike anywhere. Since big cities cover a relatively small geographical area...the chances of a tornado striking that particular area are relatively small...but not impossible. The myth that tall buildings protect cities from tornadoes is false since tornadic thunderstorms are typically 8 to 12 miles in height. A tall building of 500 to 1000 feet in height can not possibly deflect or destroy a tornado.

Question #8: Every US state has experienced tornadoes.

Out of all 50 states, Alaska is the state that has the lowest number of recorded tornadoes. There have only been four recorded tornado events in Alaska since 1950, the last of which occurred on August 25th, 2005. All tornadoes in Alaska have been rated at the F/EF0.

Question #9: Mountains, ridges, river valleys and large lakes stop tornado development.

Tornadoes are possible in every corner of the United States!  This of course includes  mountains, ridges and river valleys. While conditions aren’t optimal for tornado development on top of mountains or directly over lake Michigan, tornadoes have been documented to visit mountains at the 10 to 14 thousand foot level in the Sierra Nevada mountains and in Yellowstone National Park. Strong tornadoes have also been known to cross the Mississippi River and other large rivers or large lakes.  Tornadoes in hilly environments are of the most dangerous because the hills and trees make them very difficult to see before they hit.

Question #10: A tornado has been confirmed, what is the first thing you should do:

A lot of tornadoes injuries and deaths occur because people are curious and either go outside to check the sky, or waste valuable time by turning on the television in a family room or living room with a lot of windows.  When a tornado is confirmed, immediately take shelter in a basement, or lowest level of your home.  Other good options include a small room in the center of your house such as a closet by putting as many interior walls between you and the outside as possible or taking shelter in a bath tub and putting pillows and blankets over your body to protect you from falling debris.  Only watch television if you can do so in a room that is protected.