Tornadoes are nature's most violent storms. Spawned from powerful thunderstorms, tornadoes can cause fatalities and devastate a neighborhood in seconds. A tornado appears as a rotating, funnel-shaped cloud that extends from a thunderstorm to the ground with whirling winds that can reach 300 miles per hour. Damage paths can be in excess of a mile wide and 50 miles long. Every state is at some risk from this hazard.
Some tornadoes are clearly visible, while rain or nearby low-hanging clouds obscure others. Occasionally, tornadoes develop so rapidly that little, if any, advance warning is possible.
Before a tornado hits, the wind may die down and the air may become very still. A cloud of debris can mark the location of a tornado even if a funnel is not visible. Tornadoes generally occur near the trailing edge of a thunderstorm. It is not uncommon to see clear, sunlit skies behind a tornado.
The following are important tornado facts to keep in mind:
Peak tornado season in the southern states is March - May.
The average forward speed of a tornado is 30 miles per hour, but may vary from stationary to 70 miles per hour.
The average tornado moves southwest to northeast, but tornadoes have been known to move in any direction.
They may appear nearly transparent until dust and debris are picked up or a cloud forms in the funnel.
They may strike quickly, with little or no warning.
Tornadoes are most likely to occur 3:00 pm - 9:00 pm, but they can occur at any time.
Tornadoes can accompany tropical storms and hurricanes as they move onto land.