Tornado and Hurricane Facts

Twin devils of nature, hurricanes and tornados are among the most destructive natural phenomena to menace our planet. And if you think the UK is out of the danger zone, you're very much mistaken.

Hurricane

Overview

  • Tornados are typically short lived, whereas hurricanes can rage for several days, growing in intensity and wreaking chaos. Hurricanes breed at sea then move onto land with strong winds, lashing rain and barrier smashing flood waves.
  • The term hurricane is derived from "Huracan", the name of a Mayan storm god. They are also known as cyclones and typhoons. A hurricane is only classed as such if its winds reach speeds of 74 miles per hour. The National Hurricane Centre in the US allocates different names each year to the Atlantic hurricanes.
  • The Fujita Scale classifies a tornado according to its level of damage, F1 being the weakest and F5 the strongest. Some F5s can have winds of over 300 miles per hour and leave a two mile wide path of destruction.
Hurricanes and Tornados

Formation

  • A tornado is formed when warm, moist air is sucked up into the rear of a thunderstorm and hits an advancing mass of colder air. As the air continues to ascend it is forced to rotate due to the variation of wind speed with height. However, it can only be classed as a tornado when the rotating column reaches the ground.

Records

  • Modern tornado record keeping began in 1950. Over a sixteen hour period in April of 1974, there were 148 tornados across thirteen US states; seven were classified F5 and caused 315 deaths. The US record occurred in May 2003 with an unprecedented 543 confirmed tornadoes.
  • The largest known recorded tornado, an F4 which hit Nebraska in May 2004, was almost two and a half miles wide at its peak. Most tornadoes will only last for a few minutes, travelling across one to three miles with a wind speed of up to 113 miles per hour. Number crunchy fans should visit the website of The Tornado And Storm Research Organisation.
Hurricane and tornado evacuation

Unusual Facts

  • Tornados have been known to do the oddest things including stripping a chicken of all its feathers. While it’s true light objects can be carried airborne over long distances, heavy objects like cars would soon fall back to the ground. Read more bizarre tornado stories on the Tornado Project website.
  • Architects of glassy skyscrapers and home buyers in the built up city of Dallas are advised to install a safe room. Eight inch concrete walls are the only security against an F5 tornado.
  • Got a death wish? The Local National Weather Service in the US offers training sessions on becoming a storm spotter.

Tornadoes in the UK

  • Unbelievably, relative to its size, the UK experiences the world’s highest frequency of tornadoes. Although rarely destructive, an average 33 tornados hit each year. On 23 November 1981, 105 tornados occurred in the UK in just five and a half hours. Holland also reports high incidences of tornados. Central Oklahoma is the tornado capital of the US.

Hurricane Katrina

  • On 29 August 2005, Hurricane Katrina hit Mississippi and Louisiana killing over 1,800 people and laying to waste the city of New Orleans. Around 80 per cent of the city was flooded and over 78,000 homes were destroyed. Few survivors have returned.
  • A Harvard Medical School Survey found suicide rates trebled following Katrina.
  • The forensic office in the New Orleans courthouse basement was destroyed by Katrina - and with it all hopes for those wrongly convicted of crime, as vital DNA evidence was lost.
  • As Katrina raced towards New Orleans, a seismic hum was felt as far away as California. New Scientist reports that over a hurricane’s lifetime, it can release as much energy as a million Hiroshima nuclear bombs.
  • Thousands of family pets were left stranded following Katrina, as they weren’t allowed onto the evacuation buses. One organisation, United Animal Nation, rescued over 2,000 animals. Many had chemical burns from the flood waters; all were emaciated; large percentages were found to have heart worms.