Tornadoes occur around the world, most notably in the United States, South America and parts of Africa and Asia. One of the key points of activity is a section of the U.S. known as Tornado Alley, which is considered to be where tornadoes are most common. According to the United States National Weather Service, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, has the dubious honor of having been struck by tornadoes more often than any other city in the U.S., with the count in excess of 100.
More about the power of tornadoes:
- Tornado Alley encompasses the eastern section of South Dakota, eastern Colorado, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and northern Texas. The flat terrain in the Great Plains provides the ideal conditions for cold air from Canada to meet the warm moist air from the Gulf of Mexico, leading to the formation of tornadoes.
- One of the deadliest tornadoes in recorded history was the Tri-State Tornado of 18 March 1925. The tornado traveled a total of 219 miles, killing 695 people in Illinois, Missouri and Indiana.
- Although Oklahoma City holds the record for the most tornadoes, tiny Codell, Kansas, holds the distinction of being struck on the same date for three consecutive years, with tornadoes occurring on 20 May of 1916, 1917 and 1918.
In a violent tornado, the safest place is in an underground shelter. I have lost many friends in two EF5 tornadoes here in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1998 and 2011. Many of them were in their basement. The house either fell in on them or was wiped clean by the violent winds. Some were crushed, some were shredded to pieces by debris. My grandparents had a [storm pit] that doubled as a root cellar that was dug into the side of a hill.
Topography does seem to have a role in tornado formation, but researchers used to think tornadoes formed more readily on flat land. This is not such a firm hypothesis now, considering the number of violent tornadoes that have hit in the much hillier, much more rolling terrain of the Southeast.
You're not apt to see too many tornadoes in the Smoky Mountains, it's true, but as soon as the land flattens just a little, they pop up. Chattanooga has been hit, and even Sand Mountain, Alabama had an EF5 during the April 2011 super outbreak. So, flat land is not necessarily the only ingredient needed to spawn tornadoes. The advantage in the Plains is you can see them coming from a long ways away. Down here in the South, if you get a glimpse at more than two miles away, you're lucky.
Don't be fooled by the whole Midwest myth. They get their share of tornadoes, no doubt, but many of these are in the middle of nowhere and do very little damage.
You run into problems when you have violent tornadoes hitting populated areas. Obviously, this has happened in the Midwest too (Joplin, Mo. 2011), but there have been a significant number of violent, deadly tornadoes in the Southeast, particularly in Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana. These states seem to bear the brunt of spring storm activity.
Go to the lowest place in your house and stay away from windows.
You should never, ever, ever, *ever* be in a mobile home or car during a tornado.
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