Tornado Dangers and Warning Signs

  • Medical Author:
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

  • Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

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In the aftermath of hurricanes, tornadoes become a major concern for those living in the path of the storm. While tornadoes usually accompany thunderstorms, tropical storms and hurricanes can also result in tornadoes in affected areas. Tornadoes can occur anywhere in the world, but most are observed in the Eastern part of the U.S. (east of the Rocky Mountains).

The most dangerous aspect of a tornado is the updraft, or the force that lifts upward inside the funnel cloud. This force can lift vehicles, houses, trees, and other large items or structures and move them hundreds of feet away. Tornadoes can move at speeds greater than 250 miles per hour and leave a path of destruction that averages 9 miles long by 200 yards wide. Severe tornadoes cause even more extensive damage.

Local weather services issue a tornado watch is issued when weather conditions favor the formation of tornadoes. The watch is upgraded to a tornado warning when a funnel cloud is seen or detected by radar.

Tornadoes can strike rapidly, and you may not observe the typical funnel cloud before a tornado hits.

For more information about tornadoes, please read the following articles:

  • Tornado Safety - How To Prepare for A Tornado Emergency
  • The Fujita Tornado Damage Scale (how tornadoes are rated)
  • Questions and Answers About Tornadoes

Medically reviewed by Avrom Simon, MD; Board Certified Preventative Medicine with Subspecialty in Occupational Medicine

REFERENCE: National Vital Statistics Report. Deaths: Final Data for 2005.

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Reviewed on 1/27/2011

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