The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
-Psalm 19:1

Do you know that God controls the clouds and makes his lightning flash?
-Job 37:15

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Do tornadoes hit cities?!

SKY WATCH FRIDAY time! Please visit Klaus, Sandy, Ivar, Wren, Louise and Fishing Guy, the team for SKY WATCH FRIDAY (click the word to link and participate!) Thanks to Dot and Tom, who were instrumental in the success of this blogging event. You should definitely come fly with us! Yesterday's sky was a brilliant blue with strikingly contrasting well-defined "fair weather cumulus clouds". I love it when the sky looks that way. It makes you realize the depth of the atmosphere and it really demonstrates the massive expanse of our glorious sky.With all this fair weather and no recent severe weather and no severe weather in the forecast until Monday, I feel like I should catch everyone up on what this year has looked like so far, tornado-wise. If you are thinking that this year seems much less active than last year, you are very correct. Last year, at this time, we were being bombarded with a record YTD total of tornadoes for that point in the year.You see that, at March 18, 2009, we have had 87 tornado reports so far; whereas, last year at this time, we had seen approximately 500 (!!!) tornado reports. The WCM page with the SPC is a great resource for tornado climatology.

This page has charts of the latest preliminary severe storm reports, annual summaries, and links to comma-separated-value (csv) data files from the SPC severe weather database back to 1950.
Looking at the current trend against the averages and against previous years, you see that we are, so far, experiencing a much less active tornado year than in the past.

... which is a blessing for all the non-victims of the would-be potentially devastating storms. Yes, you can clearly see that things are trending well below average. That doesn't mean, mind you, that it won't happen, just means it hasn't.

I was asked a really terrific question yesterday regarding tornadoes and big cities... since we were talking about the Atlanta tornado and the following day's outbreak, being so close to the anniversary (what?! They brought it up!!!) Anyways, my God friend asked if tornadoes generally avoid cities. Here's the scoop on that... obviously, more populated areas are more aware of a tornado happening than rural areas where no one is around, so you will tend to see more reports in the higher populated regions. That doesn't, in any way, mean that populated areas are magnets for tornadoes... it only means that they are more realized in populated areas. Remember that a tornado is rated by the damage that it causes. If no one is there to see it and report it, and there was nothing in the area to be damaged, there will not be a tornado report. Now, back to the question... DO TORNADOES AVOID CITIES??
It is a myth that tornadoes never hit big cities. The fact is tornadoes have a long history of hitting big cities and when they do, they usually cause a great amount of damage because a lot more debris is generated. Tornadoes can form pretty much anywhere at any time...
What I told me friend is that it's a matter of statistics, more tornadoes occur in tornado alley than any other area (they can and do happen ANY WHERE and ANY TIME, though!). The midwest is much less densely populated, so statistically, the likelihood that a tornado would be over a city rather than open land is greatly reduced when compared with the eastern part of the United States... but even in the eastern part of the country, the larger cities don't take up large areas, so downtown areas with tall buildings are a much smaller target making the probability of a direct hit very small. In that same sense though, a house in the middle of an open area has a less probable shot at being struck by a tornado than a large city just because of area alone. We saw this in Boston, GA, on February 19, 2009, when an approximately 400-500 yard wide EF3 tornado missed the house it passed by, by a hair.
Tornadoes can form just about any place. ~source
... and there is a history of them happening in big cities.
Here is just a small list of cities that have been hit by tornadoes:
Dallas, TX
Fort Worth, TX
Miami, FL
Los Angeles, CA (30 tornadoes since 1918)
Oahu, HI
Oklahoma City, OK (F5 Tornado)
Cincinnati, OH
Salt Lake City, UT
Nashville, TN
Birmingham, AL
St. Louis, MO (22 tornadoes in the past 40 years)
Sunnyvale, CA (right smack in the middle of Silicon Valley)
Wichita Falls, KS TX, thanks, Ken!
Washington DC
Atlanta, GA
One could make the argument that tall skyscrapers could affect the air flow patterns needed to sustain a tornado. But it’s probably unlikely that a few buildings which are a few hundred feet in size would have much of an affect on a supercell which can grow to heights in excess of 50,000 feet (9 miles) and be as big as Mount Everest. Even a tornado itself can be as wide as a mile or more. ~source
Basically, do tornadoes avoid cities??? No. Cities are just generally well placed.

Have a great day!


  1. Great post, Jen, and great Skywatch photo! I love fairweather cumulus, especially with the deep blue sky behind them. I have an error to point out, however, in your list of cities hit by tornadoes. You listed Wichita Falls, KS, when in fact Wichita Falls is in Texas. Did you mean Wichita, KS, or in fact Wichita Falls, TX?

    My Skywatch post will be up within about 10-15 minutes.

  2. and I thought I was first. Anyway, less tornado than last year---that's good news.

    Oh that looks like a summer sky, makes me want to get some iced tea while viewing your photo.

    Enjoy the weekend by watching the sky :D

  3. lovely sky...

    My entry for SWF this week : in HERE. Hope you have time to visit . Thanks

  4. Excellent posting as always, you never disappoint!

    Have a great weekend!
    Regina In Pictures

  5. Amazing that there are so many fewer tornadoes this year! Thanks for the explanation about whether tornadoes avoid big cities. I've wondered about that!

  6. Exactly my kind of sky! I love this time of year to see so many of them.
    Some great info as always - it's nice that the number to tornados is down. :)
    Have a great weekend forthcoming!

    Carletta’s Captures.

  7. ANother information filled post, thank you also for the wonderful sunny shot!

  8. Glorious sky. I guess I am spoiled by living in E. Washington state, with no extreme weather, other than our last few winters. I applaud anyone who lives in tornado, hurricane or tsunami areas. You are braver than me.

  9. Beautiful sky, and very good news that the tornado season has been less active so far. I remember a tornado or two in Salt Lake City news, including one that came within a couple of blocks of my college-aged son's apartment.

  10. Lots of good info, and a lovely blue-and-white pciture perfect sky!

  11. to me they look like fish bones

  12. Dew: Neat post with a great sky photo. That tornado information was interesting.

  13. Gorgeous shot and as always an interesting post.

  14. Interesting post and great shots like every week!Thank you for sharing.Have a great weekend!

  15. Great post and photo as always. Thanks for sharing! Happy SWF!

  16. Lovely sky here, its lovely when the different types of cloud show through each other.
    Thanks for such an informative post too.

  17. Beautiful sky and great post! :o)

  18. I started seeing shapes in your sky. Beautiful clouds!

  19. Huh! 500 last year. That is a huge amount. Even 87 is in my book. Still it is a massive drop for whatever reasons. Lots of cities hit too. I'm so glad we don't have such catastrophic forces working over our way. Trombs yes. But they are just so tiny and inneffective compered to the real thing and I have seen only two trombs in my life anyway at close quarters and even then I could quite safely stand and watch the spiral move swiftly along as it wasn't headed towards me. Just really sorry I caught neither on camera.
    The sky shot is wonderful btw.

  20. you always have the neatest facts on the weather and really neat photos also.

    Gill in Canada

  21. I had a nice chuckle at the question:'do tornadoe avoil cities', a bit like asking does God sare one country over ans other from war and famine! Mother nature does not as yet take sides.
    Nice post.

  22. I love the sky photo. I really like blue, blue skies with any clouds in the foreground and cirrus in the background. So many layers.

    Interesting tornado data. Since living in NM the past 6+ years, we're sort of unaware except when we hear about them in our former neck-of-the-woods, Southwest Missouri. The difference in this year and last year is astounding!

  23. Tornado. Now that is a scary word. In the last few years there has been the odd little one in the UK. Fascinating phenomena, but then yiu can't argue with mother nature

  24. I don't if I should be thanking you for this post or not...scary stuff! Thank you for the amazing info and for sharing and happy spring!

  25. Nice sky photo! We need more days like that. Interesting that the tornado count is so much lower than last year. For us in Maryland, it's the rain that's much lower than normal.

  26. Great SW post and piccie, personally I'm glad we are having an easier year on tornadoes.

  27. No tornado warning here in the southwest only wonderful blue skies!! :)

  28. Beautiful skies and glad to hear that the weather has been calm and better than last year. Our winter was better too, much less snow than last year and a much earlier spring! Who wouldn't like that :)

  29. Very interesting post, Dewdrop! I was in Australia, in August 2006, five months after Larry and saw the damage it caused in Queensland in the Tablelands. It was huge! I took many photos and wrote about it on my other blog ( efx2). I am glad we have no tornadoes here. But of course we run the risk of being flooded if we don't take care of our dikes.Thanks for your visit and have a great Weekend.

  30. At least, that is one thing we don't get from the sky ;-)

  31. Very pretty, calm sky! You'll like the cloud I used for my SkyWatch Friday photo. :)

  32. Beautiful SWF picture. I live in TN, almost into Ky and I hate tornado season. Actually I hate thunderstorms too. Yuk. I doubt any of my photos will ever be of stormy skys ~ you'll find me hiding in the bathroom. LOL

  33. Thanks for the insight..and the fluffy lovely clouds in blue-

  34. always a great post and enjoyed the lovely photo.
    thanks for the info...
    have a terrific weekend.

  35. Imagine that, cities are well placed.
    Love the cloud photo~
    That is a huge difference 500 tornado reports compared to 2009's 87!

  36. Pretty photo of the sky for Sky Watch Friday and thanks for sharing with us a little bit of the science that goes into making interesting skies.

  37. Gorgeous shot as always!

    Have a nice weeken.

  38. Great photo and comments on this year tornado history. My last naval duty assignment was in St. Marys, Georgia, and my wife told me that we could not stay in any area that have regular tornado sightings. Thanks for sharing.

  39. This was excellent! A beautiful sky shot and a very informative and interesting post. I enjoyed your sky watch contribution very much!! :)

  40. I love those wispy bits and the blue backcloth. MMmm.
    My Skywatch

  41. Wonderfully airy and sunny skies here.

  42. Want to trade some tornadoes for earthquakes? I'm a weather nut, so your info was really interesting to read. That sky shot is so crisp and clear. Stay safe and thanks for visiting my SWF post...

  43. You do take the most incredible sky pictures! This sky is so very uplifting.


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