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Track and Peak Intensity of US Tornadoes, 1950 - 2017

Tornadoes in the United States are a prevalent and powerful meteorological phenomenon that can cause significant damage and pose serious threats to communities. The U.S. experiences more tornadoes than any other country, with an average of over 1,000 tornadoes reported annually. The central part of the country, often referred to as "Tornado Alley," is particularly susceptible to tornado activity, encompassing states such as Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, and South Dakota.

Tornadoes in the U.S. vary widely in size and intensity, ranging from relatively weak and short-lived tornadoes to violent and long-track tornadoes with devastating impacts. The Enhanced Fujita (EF) scale is commonly used to categorize tornado strength, ranging from EF0 (weakest) to EF5 (strongest). Tornadoes can form in various weather conditions, but they often develop in severe thunderstorms when warm, moist air collides with cold, dry air, creating an environment conducive to the formation of rotating updrafts.

The spring and early summer months typically see an increase in tornado activity, as the clash between warm and cold air masses becomes more pronounced. Meteorological advancements, such as improved forecasting and early warning systems, have significantly enhanced the ability to predict and monitor tornadoes, providing crucial information for residents in affected areas to seek shelter and stay safe.

The animation below created by Robert Rohde shows the approximate track and peak intensity of every tornado recorded in the United States from 1950 to 2017. The data is from the National Weather Service's archive of Severe Weather Reports.

The frequency of tornados varies strongly with geographic location across the US, with the central Great Plains ("tornado alley") and parts of the Gulf Coast being particularly susceptible. However, tornadoes occur at least occasionally in every state shown.

It is likely that some tornadoes that occurred during this period were not recorded due to a lack of trained observers and/or inadequate technology in the local area at the time. Some apparent changes over time may be due to improvements in observational capabilities.

Want to learn more about tornadoes? Then you might like to read:

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