From the Field

Tornadoes: Facts, FAQs, and how to help

A lone red children's tricycle stands against a backdrop of debris following a destructive tornado.

A group of tornadoes tore through the Midwest and Great Plains from April 26 to 28, 2024, leaving a trail of devastation in their wakes. Tragically, the severe weather events claimed the lives of at least five people, including an infant, and left over 100 others injured.

As the severe weather season begins to intensify across the United States, the risk of damaging thunderstorms and tornadoes is on the rise. The tornado outbreak that swept through the Midwest and Great Plains caused widespread destruction, prompting swift action from World Vision. Through partnerships with local churches, we’re responding to the urgent needs of impacted communities.

“The whole center of town is totally destroyed. Our church is gone,” said Pastor Bobby Allison of Compassion Church in Sulphur, Oklahoma.

Given their powerful winds and potential for devastation, tornadoes can strike anywhere. It’s crucial to stay informed and prepared to safeguard the well-being of yourself and your family. Discover important tornado facts and learn steps for tornado safety and preparedness to ensure the security of your loved ones during times of crisis. Find out how World Vision is responding to the emergencies and how you can help support communities affected by tornadoes.

Tornadoes: Facts, FAQs, and how to help

Fast facts: Tornadoes

  • A tornado is a rapidly rotating column of air that extends from the base of a thunderstorm to the ground.
  • Tornadoes form when warm, moist air collides with cold, dry air, creating unstable atmospheric conditions.
  • Twisters can have wind speeds up to over 200 mph (violent tornadoes).
  • Tornadoes can vary in size from just a few yards across to more than a mile wide. They usually last for a few minutes to nearly an hour, although some may persist longer.
  • The central United States, known as Tornado Alley, is prone to frequent tornadoes due to its geography and climate. It spans from northern Texas to South Dakota, where supercell thunderstorms often produce destructive twisters.
  • Tornadoes can occur at any time of year, but they’re most common in the spring and early summer, especially in the northern Plains and upper Midwest. Most twisters happen between 4 and 9 p.m.
  • Tornado watches vs. warnings: A tornado watch means conditions are favorable for tornadoes, while a warning indicates a tornado has been detected and immediate action is needed.


What makes tornadoes so destructive?

Tornadoes, also referred to as twisters, unleash intense high winds that can topple trees, flatten buildings, and destroy roads. A significant contributor to their destructiveness is the debris they transform into projectiles. Traveling through a populated area, the funnel of a tornado picks up and carries millions of small and large items, including trees, rocks, trucks, parts of houses, and broken glass. These projectiles can cause damage proportionate to their size and speed when they collide with buildings or homes or crash to the ground.


What is the latest tornado outbreak in the U.S.?

The latest tornado outbreak in the U.S. occurred from April 26 to 28, 2024, as intense rounds of thunderstorms swept across the Midwest and Great Plains, leaving a path of devastation in their wakes. This outbreak marked one of the most damaging tornado events the region has experienced in years.

The hard-hit areas included parts of Iowa, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Texas. In Nebraska and Oklahoma alone, 50 tornadoes ravaged communities, with wind speeds reaching up to 165 mph and causing widespread destruction. Weather-reporting offices in both Omaha, Nebraska, and Norman, Oklahoma, set their respective records for the most number of tornado warnings issued in a single day.

Among the most affected areas was the resort town of Sulphur, which suffered severe damage. The tornado in Sulphur was preliminarily rated as at least an EF3.


What is the rating scale for tornadoes?

Tornadoes are now rated on the Enhanced Fujita (EF) scale, ranging from EF0 (65–85 mph) to EF5 (over 200 mph). It is nearly impossible to accurately measure the speed of a tornado, as any measurement device would be destroyed. The EF scale assesses the intensity based on estimated 3-second wind gusts, calculated using 28 different damage indicators — from softwood trees to schools. For example, if a tornado obliterates a large shopping mall or a large section of one, the wind speed would be estimated at 204 miles per hour, characterizing it as an EF5.


What is an EF5 tornado?

An EF5 is the most powerful tornado, causing incredible damage with winds over 200 mph. Capable of destroying schools and large shopping complexes, and causing permanent structural deformation to even 20-story buildings, EF5 tornadoes are rare. They account for only 1% of all tornadoes but are responsible for 37% of tornado-related fatalities. The National Weather Service maintains a list of all the EF5 tornadoes since 1950.


What are some recent EF5 tornadoes?

A formidable EF5 tornado struck Moore, Oklahoma, on May 20, 2013, with recorded peak winds of 210 mph. The disaster resulted in the tragic loss of 24 lives, the destruction of over 1,100 homes, and an estimated $2 billion in damages. The disaster stands as one of the costliest tornadoes on record. Just 11 days after that disaster, another EF5 and the largest tornado ever recorded, measuring 2.6 miles across at its peak, hit near El Reno, Oklahoma, on May 31, 2013.


How is World Vision responding to the latest tornado outbreak?

World Vision acted swiftly in response to the tornadoes that struck areas of the Midwest and Great Plains on the weekend of April 26, 2024. We have partnered with local churches in severely affected areas to distribute emergency supplies to families impacted by the devastation.

Two trucks, loaded with relief supplies, including hygiene kits, flood buckets, shelf-stable food, cleaning supplies, and generators, departed from the World Vision Storehouse location in Pittsburgh on Monday, April 29.


How do I prepare for a tornado?

The Federal Emergency Management Agency provides guidelines to help you and your family stay safe during and after a tornado. When a tornado warning is issued, taking immediate action is critical. For example:

  • Go to a safe room, basement, or storm cellar.
  • If no basement exists, reach a small interior space or room on the lowest level.
  • Stay away from windows, doors, and outside walls.
  • If you can safely get to a sturdy building, do so immediately.
  • Do not seek shelter under an overpass or bridge; you’re safer in a low, flat location.
  • Be vigilant for flying debris that can cause injury or death.
  • Use your arms to protect your head and neck.


How can I help people affected by disasters in the U.S.?

  • PrayJoin us in praying for those who have loved ones injured or impacted by tornadoes.

Dear Heavenly Father, we lift up children and families affected, praying for their safety and protection during this challenging time. We also pray for strength and endurance for the emergency responders working tirelessly to provide aid and support.

  • Give: Your gift will help provide relief to survivors of disasters in the U.S.


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