The 10 Worst States for Tornadoes

Written by Kirstin Harrington
Updated: August 10, 2023
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U.S. Air Force meteorologists Captain Robert C. Miller and Major Ernest J. Fawbush first used the name “Tornado Alley” in a 1952 report looking at severe weather trends in midwestern states. 


We all understand that tornadoes are terrifying natural catastrophes that are generally unpredictable and expensive, both in terms of life and property, whether we’ve seen them on the news, in a film, or experienced one firsthand. A tornado may cost a great deal more than simply money, despite the fact that comprehensive house insurance can shield you from its financial effects. 

The Storm Events Database at the National Centers for Environmental Data has information on more than 70,000 tornadoes that have occurred since 1950. 75 percent of the 1,375 tornadoes that strike the United States on average each year originate in the states that are part of Tornado Alley and Dixie Alley. These are two areas where the optimal meteorological conditions for tornado formation last for extended periods of time.

Whether you live in Missouri, Oregon, or the beautiful state of Hawaii, it’s important to know which states experience these deadly weather disasters. Below you’ll find everything you need to know about the 10 worst states for tornadoes. Let’s jump into it! 

Tornado Alley

U.S. Air Force meteorologists Captain Robert C. Miller and Major Ernest J. Fawbush first used the name “Tornado Alley” in a 1952 report looking at severe weather trends in midwestern states. 

The Midwestern United States‘ corridor-shaped region where tornadoes frequently occur is known as Tornado Alley. Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, Missouri, Iowa, and South Dakota are the states that are most frequently mentioned, despite the fact that it is not an official classification. 

The data, according to experts, shows that Tornado Alley is moving eastward as greater activity is seen in the region across Louisiana and Illinois. Florida has the highest percentage of tornadoes every square mile despite not technically being in Tornado Alley. Although they have occurred in every state, tornadoes seem to be more common in the south of the nation.

tornado storm

Depending on their severity on the EF-Scale, tornadoes can destroy homes, down trees, and even relocate cars and other vehicles.

©Rasica/Shutterstock.com

Tornado Ratings and What They Mean

On February 1st, 2007, the Enhanced Fujita Scale, commonly known as the EF-Scale, went into service in the United States. On April 1, 2013, Ted Fujita’s Fujita scale (F-Scale), which had been in use since 1971, was updated in Canada

The enhanced scale was developed to more correctly link wind speeds with storm damage and to properly account for observations obtained during field surveys, however, both scales are comparable and indicate different degrees of damage. Tornado ratings vary from zero to 5 on the EF scale, with 5s often being the most severe and, luckily, the least common.

EF-0

With an EF 0, the first Fujita Scale predicted wind speeds are less than 73 mph. The range of wind speeds predicted by the Enhanced Fujita Scale is between 65 and 85 miles per hour. With this degree of a tornado, you would often observe the following: 

  • Mild damage
  • Some roof surfaces peel off
  • Some gutters or siding are marred
  • Tree limbs snap
  • Shallow-rooted trees are knocked down

EF-1

With an EF-1, the original Fujita Scale estimated wind speeds of 73 to 112 miles per hour. The enhanced Fujita Scale estimated wind speeds between 85 and 110 miles per hour. Some of the common damages from an EF-1 tornado are:

  • Moderate damage
  • Roofs completely gone
  • Cars and manufactured homes have fallen and are extremely damaged
  • Windows and doors in homes and cars are broken or missing

EF-2

113 to 157 mph were the first Fujita Scale projected wind speeds for EF-2 tornadoes. Estimated wind speeds using the enhanced Fujita Scale are 111 to 135 miles per hour. Some of the more typical damages you can see from this rating are:  

  • Significant damage
  • Roofs were blown off sturdy homes
  • Frame home foundations moved
  • Mobile homes were entirely demolished
  • Big trees were broken or uprooted
  • Light objects became projectiles
  • Automobiles were lifted off the ground

EF-3

158 to 206 mph were the original Fujita Scale projected wind speeds. Estimated wind speeds using the enhanced Fujita Scale range from 136 to 165 miles per hour for an EF-3 tornado. The common findings for this degree of storms are: 

  • Serious harm
  • Strongly built homes with whole stories demolished
  • Serious damage to big buildings like shopping centers
  • Trains overturned
  • Trees downed
  • Heavy automobiles lifted off the ground and flung
  • Weakly built homes with their foundations blown some distance away

EF-4

207 to 260 mph were the original Fujita Scale projected wind speeds for an EF-4 tornado. The predicted wind speeds using the enhanced Fujita Scale: 166 to 200 mph. With an EF-4 tornado, you can expect the following type of destruction:

  • Devastating damage
  • Whole-frame buildings, well-built homes, and entire frame homes were entirely flattened
  • Automobiles thrown
  • Tiny projectiles produced from common objects

EF-5

The 207 to 260 mph range of the original Fujita Scale estimates for an EF-5. Wind gusts fall between 166 and 200 mph, according to the enhanced Fujita Scale. With this severe storm, you can expect damage that is beyond comprehension. Entire-frame buildings are gone. Cars and other debris can get caught up in the vortex, creating dangerous rockets when ejected from the cyclone. Well-built homes and entire frame homes are utterly devastated.

Joplin, MO, May 22, 2011, EF5 tornado damage

The EF-5 tornado that hit Joplin, MO on May 22, 2011, was the deadliest U.S. tornado since 1947.

©Melissa Brandes/Shutterstock.com

10 Most Tornado-Prone States

Tornadic storms may form and bring havoc almost everywhere in the United States, despite being frequently linked with the country’s center. You might protect yourself, your loved ones, your house, and your cars from potential harm by being aware of the tornado danger in your state. Which state then experiences the most tornadoes?

1. Texas 

Each year, Texas is hit by 132 tornadoes on average. The yearly amount varies greatly, and some regions are hit more frequently than others. The Red River Valley in North Texas is the region with the highest frequency of tornadoes. Although tornadoes can happen at any time of day and in any month, they are most often in the spring and early summer and within the hours of 4 and 8 p.m. 

The Lonestar State has had 232 tornadoes in a single year, also in 1967. 1995 had 223 tornadoes, which ranks as the second-highest total in a single year behind the state of Texas. The Lonestar State has recorded the most tornadoes of any state, which is partially a result of the size of the state.

2. Alabama

According to 20-year yearly averages, Alabama experienced the second-largest percentage rise in tornado frequency. March, April, and the first part of May are the most common months for tornadoes and other severe weather. On average, across the state, that is the time of year when tornadoes are most frequent. 

With more than 550 tornadoes hitting landfall in Alabama since 1950, April is by far the busiest month. In the Heart of Dixie over the past more than 70 years, November actually had the third-highest number of tornadoes. In Jefferson County and in Mobile and Baldwin in south Alabama, tornadoes have been most common. 

A review of tornadoes recorded by the National Weather Service since 1950 also reveals a corridor, starting in Pickens County, that runs northeast and has greater tornado risks throughout Tuscaloosa, Madison, and Cullman counties.

3. Mississippi

According to a USA TODAY Network investigation, the average yearly number of tornadoes registered in Mississippi has increased from 20.1 for the 20-year period 1980-1999 to 35.8 from 2000-2019. Tornadoes are more likely to occur in several locations in central Mississippi, notably those located southeast of the Jackson metropolitan region. 

Between 2000 and 2019, Mississippi saw 716 tornadoes, making it the state with the most tornadoes overall. In terms of tornadoes per square mile of land area during that time, Mississippi led the nation. Due to the high frequency of tornadoes that occur at night, the presence of trees in the landscape that might be damaged when they are uprooted, and the fact that storms can occasionally hide their approach, the Magnolia State is one of the states most susceptible to tornado-related injuries. 

According to 20-year yearly averages, the state has had the fourth-largest rise in the number of tornadoes nationwide since 1980.

4. Illinois

Since Illinois is the most populated state in Tornado Alley, its tornadoes are significantly more devastating and lethal. Based on statistics from 1991 to 2020, Illinois had 54 tornadoes a year on average. In 1925 there was a horrifically deadly tornado that traveled across Illinois, Indiana, and Missouri. It killed 695 people in total, 613 of them in Illinois. 

The far northern point of the Land of Lincoln is at a “moderate” threat for severe storms, while much of Illinois is at a “high” increased risk of severe weather. Approximately 80% of tornadoes that occur in the state happen between April 1 and June 30.

5. Iowa

With 51 storms on average every year, Iowa is often referred to as being in Tornado Alley. The spring and summer months are the height of tornado season. With that many tornadoes hitting Iowa each year, so the state is no stranger to them. Most dance in the air around wide-open plains because they are weak. 

Others, who are more powerful, strike towns and leave devastation in their wake. While the whole state is susceptible to tornadoes, eastern Iowa presents the greatest danger; this region is known as “Iowa’s tornado alley.” In the past 65 years, Eastern Iowa in particular has experienced several powerful tornadoes. The region has been affected by 55 tornadoes with an EF-3 or higher rating between 1953 and 2018.

6. Tennessee

Tennessee is located in Dixie Alley, which is a name used to characterize the southeast regions of the United States that are more likely to have tornadoes than Tornado Alley. In Tennessee, the winds from tornadoes are accelerating closer to populous areas like Nashville and Memphis. In Tennessee, tornadoes may occur anywhere and are always unforeseen. The middle Tennessee area has recorded 500 tornadoes since 1833. 

On that note, the Metro Nashville Economic Area, which includes 10 counties, is home to an estimated 40% of tornadoes. In April 1974, over 20 tornadoes touched down and left several people injured or dead was the worst tornado-related day in Tennessee history.

7. Georgia

Georgia‘s tornado season peaks in the spring and, if tropical storms are present, occasionally in the summer. In 2021, the state had more tornadoes than a number of well-known tornado alley states, such as Kansas, Nebraska, and Oklahoma. The Peach State experiences 30 tornadoes annually on average. 

The adverse weather and tornado season typically lasts from March through May in Georgia. According to 20-year yearly averages, the state has had the 16th-highest rise in the number of tornadoes nationwide since 1980. In 1987, there were just two tornadoes in Georgia that were at least EF1 intensity. The statewide reporting of 75 tornadoes with an EF1 or more in 2017 illustrates the sharp rise over time.

8. Kentucky

In Kentucky, which is part of Hoosier Alley, the stormiest months are April and May. The average number of tornadoes per year is 21. In December 2021, when tornadoes are less common in the United States, at least 22 tornadoes were claimed to have blasted across six states, destroying towns and killing scores of people, probably over 70 in Kentucky.

9. Nebraska 

Nebraska experiences around 35 tornadoes every year. The majority of Nebraskans can still clearly recall the tornadoes that hit Omaha on May 6, 1975, or Grand Island on June 3, 1980. In Nebraska’s recorded history, there has only been one tornado that has claimed 100 or more lives. 

There hasn’t been a tornado that killed more than ten persons since 1953. In June, Nebraska’s total number of tornadoes increased by almost 35%. It is the state’s busiest month for tornadoes. When May is included, it rises to more than 60%.

10. Missouri

In Missouri, there were five of the 25 deadliest tornadoes in American history, and three of them are in the top ten. In Missouri, April through June are the months with the highest tornado frequency. Close to the end of the year, a second, lesser “peak” frequently happens.

The Show-Me state experiences 45 tornadoes on average yearly, killing around 400 people. The eighth greatest number of tornadoes ever reported in Missouri since 1950 was 65 in 2010. Kansas City, Missouri, is the region in Missouri that experiences the most tornadoes. Additionally, it set other fatal tornado catastrophe records on a nationwide level.

Bottom Line

If you ever find yourself in the path of a tornado, seek shelter immediately. Go to the lowest level of a building to the center-most room. Stay clear of windows and have a battery-powered weather radio with you, as power usually goes out during violent storms. Stay aware in order to stay safe. 

Summary of The 10 Worst States for Tornadoes

RankStateAverage Tornados Per Year
1Texas132
2Alabama60
3Mississippi86
4Illinois54
5Iowa51
6Tennessee31
7Georgia30
8Kentucky21
9Nebraska35
10Missouri45

The photo featured at the top of this post is © Minerva Studio/Shutterstock.com


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About the Author

Kirstin is a writer at A-Z Animals primarily covering animals, news topics, fun places, and helpful tips. Kirstin has been writing on a variety of topics for over five years. She has her real estate license, along with an associates degree in another field. A resident of Minnesota, Kirstin treats her two cats (Spook and Finlay) like the children they are. She never misses an opportunity to explore a thrift store with a coffee in hand, especially if it’s a cold autumn day!

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