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Little-Known Facts about Tornadoes & Straight-Line Winds

North American phenomenon.

With still a week to go in May 2011, there have been 1,333 tornadoes reported in the US.

In comparison, there has been an annual average of 1,274 confirmed tornadoes over the last ten years.

So far this year, the tornado death toll stands at 520. That makes 2011 the deadliest year for tornadoes since 1950.

One tornado was an EF-5 packing 200 mph winds. It killed hundreds, injured more than 900, and destroyed thousands of buildings, including entire neighborhoods, businesses, a hospital, and much more. Weeks later, officials say dozens of people are still unaccounted for.

It is good to know the enemy, so here some things you might find helpful about tornadoes.

Little-Known Facts about Tornadoes:

  • Between 2000 and 2008, 169 of 539 US tornado deaths were in winter.
  • Many more deaths occur in mobile homes because these are weaker and lighter-built structures. Worse by far, according to the numbers on the EF Scale Damage Indicator, are double-wides.
  • Most tornado deaths are caused by flying debris.
  • The path-of-greatest-destruction is usually less than 10 meters (10 yards) across. However, some can be a half-mile wide and several miles long.
  • Skinny or small tornadoes can be among the strongest. It is the speed of the wind that makes a tornado “stronger”, not its size.
  • A tornado may retract its funnel up into the clouds before setting it back down again somewhere else.
  • A car is extremely vulnerable if it is caught in a tornado and the taller profile of trucks makes them even more dangerous.
  • Overpass tunnels may become wind tunnels, with the wind speed actually increasing as it flows through.
  • Winds may come from any direction; and tornadoes do not always travel towards north-east.
  • Approximately 1 percent of tornadoes rotate in an anticyclonic direction in the northern hemisphere. Most supercells and tornadoes rotate cyclonically in simulations even when the Coriolis effect is neglected.

In addition to Tornado Alley...

Straight-Line Winds

Straight-line winds can be just as dangerous and destructive as a tornado and reach the same wind velocities.

Accompanying storms or not, straight-line winds can strike without warning and cover a much larger area than a tornado.

How to Prepare for Tornadoes or Straight-Line Winds

The best protections are to be aware of your local weather conditions and to stay indoors — away from flying debris.

Take the same steps as you would to protect yourself from a tornado or violent storm, such as designating a storm area. It is important to have a place planned in advance.

The safest place is underground such as in a basement.

Next best is under a desk or table, under the stairwell, of a well-built house. An interior corner is recommended by the American Red Cross.

Get inside. Driving will be dangerous: besides deadly, flying debris, there may be rain, wind, and hail. Other drivers will do foolish things and roads may be impassable due to floods, downed power lines, or fallen trees.

  • Take initial steps to get to get settled into a safe place well ahead of the storm, instead of waiting for tornado warnings or the television alerts.
  • A good storm preparedness kit includes: A flashlight, first-aid kit, battery-powered radio, bottled water and maybe even some non-perishable food. Our Amazon Disaster Survival Store has all of these items.
  • Take the Hurricane & Tornado Survival Quiz with family and friends to hone your ability to survive this deadly disaster.
  • Get the new, fun book Who Survives, A Survival Manual in Disguise. It is designed to help you learn how to survive almost any disaster, with 18 quizzes and 8 guides including checklists.
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