NC State Extension Publications

Preparing for Disaster

Tornadoes strike with incredible velocity. Wind speeds may approach 300 miles per hour. These winds can uproot trees and structures and turn harmless objects into deadly missiles, all in a matter of seconds. Mobile homes are particularly vulnerable to tornadoes.

North Carolina has an average of 31 tornadoes a year. Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma, South Dakota and Texas are the states at greatest risk.

Emergency Information

  • The best protection during a tornado is in an interior room on the lowest level of a building, preferably a basement or storm cellar.
  • Tornadoes are measured using the Enhanced Fujita Tornado Scale, or the EF-scale. This scale ranks tornadoes 0-5, based on the wind estimates of a tornado, based on damage across 28 different types of tornado indicators.
  • Injury or deaths most often occur when buildings collapse, people are hit by flying objects or people are caught in a car.
  • Tornadoes are most destructive when they touch ground. Normally, a tornado will stay on the ground for no more than 20 minutes; however, one tornado can touch ground several times in different areas.

What Is a Tornado?

A tornado is a violent windstorm characterized by a twisting, funnel-shaped cloud. It is spawned by a thunderstorm or a hurricane. Tornadoes occur when cool air overrides a layer of warm air, forcing the warm air to rise rapidly. The damage results from high wind velocities and wind-blown debris.

Tornadoes are most common between March and June in North Carolina, although they may occur anytime of the year. In 2011, 1,690 tornadoes were reported in the United States; the first occurred on Jan. 1, while the last was reported on Dec. 22. Tornadoes tend to occur in the afternoons and evenings. Over 80 percent of all tornadoes strike between noon and midnight.

Did You Know...

  • Tornadoes can be nearly invisible, marked only by swirling debris at the base of the funnel. Some are composed almost entirely of windblown dust and others are composed of several mini-funnels.
  • On average, the United States experiences 100,000 thunderstorms each year. Approximately 1,000 tornadoes develop from these storms.
  • Although tornadoes do occur throughout the world, the United States experiences the most intense and devastating tornadoes.
  • Tornadoes produce the most violent winds on earth. Tornado winds can approach speeds as high as 300 miles per hour, travel distances of over 100 miles and reach heights of over 60,000 feet above ground.
  • In May 2011, a tornado struck Joplin, Missouri, killing 158 people and causing $2.8 billion in damage.
  • In April 2011, during a three-day period, more than 177 tornadoes were spawned across 16 states, including North Carolina where 30 tornadoes caused 22 deaths.
  • According to the National Weather Service, about 42 people are killed because of tornadoes each year.
  • In 2014, the National Weather Service issued 81 tornado warnings for North Carolina and recorded 36 tornadoes that killed one and injured 34 people. Combined, the tornadoes caused more than $22 million in damages in North Carolina.

For More Information

For more information on disaster preparedness and recovery visit the NC Disaster Information Center.

Preparing for Disaster

Publication date: June 4, 2014

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