Enrichment Education

Why America has the most tornadoes in the world

Story at a glance

  • Scientists say tornadoes are difficult to track and aren’t well understood.
  • They can happen any time of the year and at any time of the day, across the U.S.
  • Traditionally, the highest tornado risk areas have been the Rockies, the Great Plains, Midwest and South.

As multiple states from Kentucky to Illinois and Arkansas experienced fatal tornadoes over the weekend, the U.S. maintains its top spot as the target for the highest number of tornadoes of any country in the world.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) National Severe Storms Laboratory says about 1,200 tornadoes hit the U.S. every year, while other countries like New Zealand only report about 20. 

Tornadoes can happen any time of the year and at any time of the day, but most happen between 4 and 9 p.m. 

According to NOAA’s Tornado FAQ, the U.S. remains top in tornado production with the highest risk areas traditionally being in the Rockies, the Great Plains, Midwest and South. 

NOAA admits that tornadoes aren’t well understood, saying most destructive tornadoes happen from supercells, rotating thunderstorms with a well-defined circulation called a mesocyclone.


America is changing faster than ever! Add Changing America to your Facebook or Twitter feed to stay on top of the news.


Recent theories and research have suggested that once a mesocyclone is underway, tornado development is related to the temperature differences across the edge of downdraft air wrapping around the mesocyclone. That relates to how scientists forecast tornadoes, looking for wind flow patterns that can cause enough moisture, instability, lift and wind for tornadic thunderstorms.

An analysis by The Washington Post also found that tornadoes tend to form where cold, dry air clashes with warm, humid air, mostly over the mid-latitudes. A sizable amount of the lower 48 states are right in the middle of this tornado zone. The warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico, mid-level dry air coming in from the Rockies along with cold air coming in from the northern half of the country, makes for the perfect conditions to create a tornado.

NOAA also said that tornado season varies depending on which region of the country you’re in. The southern Plains states like Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas hit peak tornado season in May into early June. While the northern Plains states and upper Midwest, like in North and South Dakota, Nebraska, Iowa and Minnesota, peak tornado season begins in June or July.

USA Today analyzed the threat tornadoes pose in Southern states and found that the trajectory of tornadoes is changing. 

Victor Genisini, associate professor at Northern Illinois University’s department of geographic and atmospheric science, told USA Today that, “Basically, over the last 50 years, if you live in a place like Dallas, your chance of a tornado there has gradually gone down. But if you’re in a place like Birmingham, Alabama, or Memphis, Tennessee, your threat has gone way up.”

However, states like Texas and Oklahoma still hold the No. 1 spot for tornado frequency, but the trajectory in other locations is on a downward trend.

No matter where tornadoes strike, the risks run high. NOAA says tornadoes can cause millions or even billions of dollars in property damage per year, as well as substantial loss of life.


READ MORE STORIES FROM CHANGING AMERICA

HUGE PLANET FOUND ORBITING TWO OF THE UNIVERSE’S HOTTEST AND BIGGEST STARS

LAWMAKERS LINING UP BEHIND BILL TO BRING FOUR-DAY WORK WEEK TO AMERICA

EXPERTS SAY YOU SHOULD WATCH FOR AN UNUSUAL OMICRON SYMPTOM IN KIDS

NEW HARVARD STUDY DECLARES WINNER BETWEEN PFIZER AND MODERNA VACCINES

SCIENTISTS SAY THEY MIGHT HAVE DISCOVERED THE CAUSE OF ALZHEIMER’S