Everyone knows about tornadoes. You may have seen them in movies or heard about them in the news. However one of the most important facts for a person to know is where Tornadoes are likely to occur. This makes simple sense. If you want to avoid hurricanes you know that you should likely not live in the Gulf Coast or Florida. If you want to avoid the chance of mudslides you wouldn’t live in Oregon. Knowing where and how tornadoes can appear can help you stay safer and better prepared in case such a storm happens.
For the most part we know that Tornadoes as they are known in the United States are largely a North American phenomenon. The unique position and composition of North America’s topography gives thunderstorms enough space, time, and energy to form tornadoes. The traditional red zone for tornadoes is the Great Plains region of the United States called Tornado Alley. This region is known for spawning several tornadoes a year and in this region tracking storms and preparing for tornadoes is a way of life. The flat grasslands are perfect place for pressure systems to collide, creating powerful storms and in turn powerful tornadoes.
Interesting enough Tornado Alley is not the only area where tornadoes can happen. Tornadoes can occur anywhere in continental United States if the conditions for tornado formation are met. That means if you have a particularly strong thunderstorm system in your area with high winds there is a strong possibility of a Tornado happening.
The frequency of tornadoes happening outside the Tornado alley have increased with powerful storms ripping up areas that would be by conventional wisdom considered safe such as the Southeast or the Atlantic Seaboard.
One type of location that is generally safe from Tornadoes is the city. However recent events have proven that not likely doesn’t mean never. Two years ago a powerful tornado ripped through downtown Atlanta and doing major damage to the CNN headquarters. The other major tornado in a major city happened recently in New York City. A twister touched down in the Bronx in September of this year in the early morning hours also did serious property damage.
The danger of tornadoes in unlikely locations is that they are harder to spot. The tornado that struck Piedmont, Alabama became one of the deadliest on record because the area was hilly and full of trees. This made it impossible for residents to see the storm funnel approaching. This is why it is important for local news to have good weather tracking systems to properly warn residents in case of unusual weather conditions.
If you’d like more info on tornadoes, check out the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Homepage. And here’s a link to NASA’s Earth Observatory.
We’ve also recorded an episode of Astronomy Cast all about planet Earth. Listen here, Episode 51: Earth.