Tornadoes are among the most destructive forces in nature. These huge, swirling columns of air pack winds that can reach speeds of up to 300 mph, are capable of flattening entire neighborhoods and killing countless lives.
The following are ten facts regarding these potentially deadly natural events.
1. The Tri-State tornado of 1925 is regarded as the deadliest in US history. On March 18, 1925, a tornado ripped through southeastern Missouri, Illinois, and Indiana, causing widespread devastation. According to the Washington Post, it covered 219 miles in three hours.
It killed approximately 700 people and is thought to be the world’s longest tornado.
2. On May 31, 2013, the largest tornado ever recorded struck. “At its apex, the EF5 tornado in El Reno, Oklahoma, had a width of around 2.6 miles,” AccuWeather Senior Storm Warning Meteorologist John Lavin said.
According to the National Weather Service, it surpassed the previous record of a 2.5-mile-wide F4 tornado that hit Hallam, Nebraska, in May 2004.
3. On April 27, 2011, the deadliest tornado outbreak in history occurred. According to the National Weather Service, 207 tornadoes touched down in the Deep South during a severe tornado outbreak that lasted from April 25 to April 28, 2011.
“It’s the fourth-worst [event] in terms of tornado-related mortality in a single day,” Lavin added.
The tornadoes ripped through Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, Georgia, and Virginia on April 27, killing 319 people and wounding 2,839 others, according to the National Weather Service.
On the Enhanced Fujita Scale, four of the more than 200 tornadoes that inflicted havoc on that date were categorized as violent EF5s.
4. Tornadoes can last anywhere from minutes to hours. According to NOAA’s National Severe Storms Laboratory, a tornado can last anywhere from a few seconds to several hours. However, the typical twister stays on the ground for around five minutes.
5. Except for Antarctica, tornadoes have struck every continent. Tornadoes aren’t limited to any one region of the globe, yet no tornadoes have been recorded on Earth’s southernmost continent.
Tornadoes aren’t unheard of in Antarctica, according to NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information.
“A damp, warm climate is required for tornadoes to form,” Lavin explained. “Considering the solar angle down there and how cold it is, that can’t happen in Antarctica.”
Read more: 101 Useless Facts You Shouldn’t Know!
6. Tornadoes with high winds can be found in the northeastern United States. While tornadoes aren’t as common in the northeast as they are in the central and southern states, Dr. Brian Tang, an assistant professor at the University at Albany State University of New York, says the Northeast isn’t completely immune to severe tornadoes.
“In 1985, an F5 tornado struck western Pennsylvania,” Tang explained.
A powerful tornado outbreak hit sections of Pennsylvania, Ohio, New York, and Ontario, Canada, on May 31 of that year.
The Herald, a newspaper published in Mercer County, Pennsylvania, stated that 43 tornadoes touched down on that Friday, causing more than $550 million in damage.
7. Tornadoes can occur in both Tornado and Dixie Alleys in the United States. While most people are familiar with Tornado Alley, a huge swath of tornado-prone land in states such as Texas and Oklahoma, Dixie Alley is also infamous for deadly tornadoes that rip through the Southeast.
This active tornado zone includes the states of Louisiana, Mississippi, Georgia, Alabama, and North Carolina.
“Over the last 10 years, it’s been a particularly dangerous location for tornadoes,” Lavin said of Dixie Alley, which was the site of the historic April 2011 event.
8. Tornadoes are most common in the spring. Tornadoes have a history of primarily occurring in the spring months, beginning in March. According to Live Science, tornadoes are most common in the months of May and June.
Historically, May has been the busiest month for tornadoes, with an average of 276 tornadoes every year in the United States, according to NOAA.
Read more: The Boston Marathon: 11 Quick Facts!
9. Tornadoes are most active in the afternoon and evening. Tornadoes can strike at any time, but the National Severe Storms Laboratory says they’re most likely to strike between 4 and 9 p.m.
“The Southeast has a tendency to get more tornadoes at night, which is really dangerous,” Lavin explained.
10. The United States has the largest amount of tornadoes on the planet. According to NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information, the United States has the most tornado activity of any country, with an average of over 1,200 tornadoes per year.
“We get the winds that come off the Gulf of Mexico that offer adequate moisture throughout much of the country,” Lavin said. “We get the winds that come off the Gulf of Mexico that supply ample moisture across much of the country.”
He said that a lot of precipitation moving throughout the country, as well as meteorological patterns that cause winds to fluctuate, also offer the proper ingredients for tornadoes to happen.