More than 1,200 tornadoes hit the United States each year, incurring millions of dollars worth of damage, destroying towns, roads, and critical infrastructure, injuring and killing hundreds of people. Their winds, often reaching speeds of up to 200 mph, hold a devastating power that can lift people and vehicles in the air, rip buildings off their foundations and even deform massive skyscrapers.
Fortunately, 80 percent of tornadoes in the U.S. are relatively weak, but the remaining 20 percent are extremely intense and could be deadly. In 1925, the Tri-state tornado caused 695 fatalities, the highest death toll from a single tornado ever recorded, as well as an estimated $1.5 billion in damages. More recently, a 2011 tornado outbreak in Joplin, Missouri, killed 158 and caused $2.8 billion in damages. With the tornado season quickly approaching, the team at TradingPedia decided to analyze the tornadoes recorded over the past year to see how deadly they were and what devastation they caused in terms of property damage.
How Dangerous Are Tornadoes?
The severity of tornadoes varies widely and is typically measured with the Enhanced Fujita Scale, which rates them by the damage they cause. Tornadoes classified as EF0 are considered weak and can damage trees, chimneys, and road signs, whereas tornadoes that are graded EF5 are extremely violent and can rip massive houses off their foundations. The damage caused by such tornadoes can be compared to that of a bomb.
On the afternoon of May 20, 2013, a violent tornado formed and touched down in northwestern McClain County, Oklahoma, quickly intensifying and reaching EF4 as it entered the town of Moore in Cleveland County. It ravaged the town, leaving massive devastation and killing 25 people. Large parts of the city were totally obliterated, homes were flattened, and vehicles were torn into pieces by the storm, that eventually reached EF5. Roughly 1,150 houses were destroyed, while the damage was estimated at around $2 billion. In less than 1 hour, the Moore tornado released energy that was between 8 and 600 times the power of the Hiroshima bomb.
- EF0 – Light Damage (Wind speed 40 – 72 mph)
- EF1 – Moderate Damage (Wind speed 73 – 112 mph)
- EF2 – Significant damage (Wind speed 113 – 157 mph)
- EF3 – Severe Damage (Wind speed 158 – 206 mph)
- EF4 – Devastating Damage (Wind speed 207 – 260 mph)
- EF5 – Incredible Damage (Wind speed 261 – 318 mph)
The United States has the highest number of tornadoes and most of these storms occur in Tornado Alley. This is a loosely defined area in the Central United States that traditionally includes the Great Plains and the states of Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, and South Dakota. Indiana, Ohio, Missouri, and Iowa are also usually included in this area.
This is not an official designation, however, and several more states have seen an unusually high number of tornadoes over the years. Florida, although lying far from Tornado Alley, often has more tornadoes per year than some of the states that are typically included in the “alley” , even excluding the water tornadoes that are typical for the region.
Although most violent tornadoes occur in Tornado Alley, no place in the country is completely safe from this dangerous phenomenon, the only exception being Alaska, where only 4 tornadoes have been confirmed since 1950. Interestingly, experts say that this alley or corridor, where the storms are most frequent and damaging, is shifting eastwards.
The term itself was coined back in 1952 when a research paper titled “Tornado Alley” was published by two U.S. Air Force meteorologists – Major Ernest J. Fawbush and Captain Robert C. Miller. They were the people who created the first tornado forecast a few years prior. Since then, meteorologists, climatologists, and storm chasers have noticed that in the past two to three decades, there have been more tornadoes farther south and farther east away from the regions traditionally known as Tornado Alley.
As shown in multiple research papers, tornadoes have increased in the lower Mississippi Valley and the upper Tennessee Valley due to changing climate conditions. Severe storms can also be observed in the belt encompassing states from Louisiana through Illinois. And while tornadoes can hit at any time, they are more frequent between March and June, with April and May considered peak season.
The States with the Highest Number of Tornadoes in 2022
A total of 1,331 tornadoes were recorded across the United States in 2022, according to data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and its Storm Prediction Center. This includes two tornado outbreaks that occurred across the southern and southeastern U.S., each causing more than $1 billion worth of damages, including flash flooding, severe storms, and hail the size of golf balls.
The damage from tornadoes is often difficult to calculate as they are accompanied by other types of severe weather – heavy rain, hail storms, high winds, lightning, and lightning-induced wildfires. According to NOAA’s Storm Events Database, the destruction caused by the imposing power of tornadoes cost over $547 million in 2022. Additionally, damage caused by two tornado outbreaks which struck several states in November and December amounted to another $460 million.
The figure for 2022 is a huge underestimation as data for the financial damage of certain events was not even included in the NOAA’s database. Moreover, figures for the months of November and December are preliminary, and the final estimated cost of those tornadoes have yet to be determined.
Tornadoes in 2022: 184 / Damage: $7.76 Million
In 2022, 180 tornadoes occurred in the state, most of which were EF0 and EF1, the weakest according to the Enhanced Fujita scale. On March 22, there was one that was classified as EF3 and along with the hundreds of trees it damaged and uprooted in Kemper County, it managed to shift a house off of its foundation, destroy a manufactured home, and then decimate a massive family home when it peaked with 145mph winds. The property damage was estimated to be around $400,000, along with $75,000 in crop damage. Another EF3 tornado was confirmed on November 30 and while it fortunately did not cause any severe destruction, it crossed the state line to neighboring Alabama.
Tornadoes in 2022: 160 / Total Damage: $28.7 Million
Texas is one of the states that see the most tornadoes every year. In 2022, a three-day tornado outbreak ravaged several southern and eastern states, including Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, South Carolina, and Virginia. It created a total of 85 tornadoes, some of which caused EF3 damage, and the destruction cost at least $5 million in Texas alone. Overall, the Lone Star State had 160 tornadoes in 2022 that incurred more than $28 million in damages. The official figures for the damage do not include data for the roughly 50 storms that took place in November and December.
Tornadoes in 2022: 117/ Total Damage: $222,000
With 117 twisters, Alabama was the state with the third-highest number of tornadoes last year. Multiple tornadoes were spotted during two outbreaks in late March but the majority of them were not particularly strong. Still, two EF3 tornadoes occurred on March 30. On March 3, however, a deadly tornado hit Hale County, and based on the amount and type of damage caused, it was classified as EF2. It resulted in 1 fatality and 8 injuries, along with massive damage to property, although the official figures are still not available.
Tornadoes in 2022: 77 / Total Damage: $10.4 Million
Minnesota saw 77 tornadoes last year – not that many compared to states such as Texas or Mississippi, but some incurred massive damage estimated at $10.4 million. On May 30, multiple tornadoes were reported in North and South Dakota, as well as Minnesota. A multi-vortex EF2 tornado hit Forada in Douglas County where many homes had their roofs torn off and their exterior walls ripped off. Another EF2 tornado hit Aldrich in Waadena Country, causing at least $1 million in damages.
Tornadoes in 2022: 73 / Total Damage: $16.6 Million
A total of 73 land tornadoes touched down across Florida last year, although the state is not typically part of Tornado Alley. Many of them were weak but on March 31, a violent EF3 tornado appeared near Wausau and passed to the northwest of Alford, causing serious devastation along its path. A large number of anchored mobile homes were overturned and destroyed, cars were moved and damaged, while two people lost their lives and another three were injured.
Tornadoes in 2022: 68 / Total Damage: $56 Million
Sitting right in the middle of Tornado Alley, Kansas has had its share of violent, destructive tornadoes. Last year was no exception as the state saw at least 68 twisters, some of which caused massive damage to homes, businesses, and public infrastructure. The costliest event occurred on April 29 following several small tornadoes that formed in the Great Plains. In the evening, a larger and more violent one struck the city of Andover, destroying and damaging a total of 331 buildings, most of them residential homes. Initially, the damage from the tornado was estimated at $37 million, but over time, that figure grew to $41.5 million.
Tornadoes in 2022: 61 / Total Damage: $38.3 Million
As tornadoes seem to be moving away from the Plains, they are occurring more frequently in Louisiana, according to some experts. Although strong twisters are not common, they do occur – 170 tornadoes of EF3 or stronger have been recorded since 1950. 21 of them were even more destructive and classified as EF4. Last year, the state saw 61 tornadoes, including a relatively small but extremely violent one on March 22. It was part of a tornado outbreak, it moving through the New Orleans metropolitan area, causing minor damage in Gretna before continuing to the community of Arabi, where it destroyed many homes, ripping off their roofs and exterior walls, obliterating garages and smaller structures. It resulted in one fatality, two direct injuries, and an estimated $32.5 million in damages.
Tornadoes in 2022: 56 / Total Damage: $21.2 Million
Arkansas is one of the states where tornadoes are not at all limited to the months of March, April, and May. On the contrary, plenty of them tend to occur in November and December, as well. Last year, meteorologists counted 56 events, 14 of which happened on November 4 in several parts of the state. The most devastating one, however, struck in the morning hours of March 30. It developed just southwest of the Northwest Arkansas Mall near Johnson and moved to Springdale where it caused more severe damage – homes were left without rooftops, vehicles were rolled and flipped, and the roof of George Elementary School was peeled back. The school’s metal gymnasium building collapsed, while a warehouse was completely flattened. The cost of the devastation was estimated at $20 million.
Tornadoes in 2022: 56 / Total Damage: $60,510,000
Similarly to Florida, Georgia is located far from the Great Plains and is not typically included in the Tornado Alley states. However, in 2022, it sustained serious damage from 56 tornadoes, 53 of which are officially confirmed. However, data for the actual property damage from some of these events is not yet available. According to the Office of Commissioner of Insurance and Safety Fire, one tornado estimated to be EF4 caused roughly $60 million in damages across Bryan County. The tornado completely destroyed multiple homes and incurred severe damage over a large area.
Another twister entered the Bonaire community of northeast Houston County, intensifying to EF3, destroying homes and two large high-tension transmission towers. One house was completely obliterated, while a large number of residences had their roofs and second floors torn away.
Tornadoes in 2022: 53 / Total Damage: $225 Million
The number of tornadoes that occurred in Iowa in 2022 was not that significant when compared to Texas or Mississippi, but the people in the state suffered what was probably the most severe tornado of the year in the U.S. It was certainly the costliest one, causing $220 million in damages and tragically, killing six. Occurring on March 5, it struck Winterset, along with several other towns and communities in Central Iowa. This was the country’s deadliest tornado last year.
The Most Expensive Tornadoes of 2022
Damage totals have not yet been published for all tornadoes that struck the United States in 2022. From the available data, however, we can clearly see that the March 5 tornado in Iowa was the costliest one. Experts describe it as a violent multiple-vortex wedge tornado and its severity was assessed as EF4. The total damage it incurred over a 33 minute span was estimated at $220 million.
It touched down near Macksburg and moved to the city of Winterset in Madison County where it caused serious damage to multiple houses and other structures. Vehicles were flipped and tossed, several homes were completely leveled, and four of the fatalities occurred when one of the houses was obliterated by wind that reached 170 mph (270 km/h). Before the tornado dissipated, it went close to the Des Moines metropolitan area, moving through the outskirts of Norwalk, Avon, and Pleasant Hill, eventually reaching Newton.
|Area Affected by Tornado||Severity||Date||Estimated Damage|
|Macksburg–Winterset–Norwalk–Newton, Iowa||EF4||March 5||$220,000,000|
|Pembroke–Black Creek, Bryan County, Georgia||EF4||April 5||$60,000,000|
|Gaylord, Michigan||EF3||May 20||$50,175,000|
|Andover, Kansas||EF3||April 29||$41,500,000|
|Gretna–Arabi–New Orleans East, Louisiana||EF3||March 22||$32,500,000|
|Springdale, Arkansas||EF3||March 30||$20,000,000|
|Iona/Fort Myers, Florida||EF2||January 16||$10,000,000|
|Manhattan, Kansas||EF2||June 11||$10,000,000|
|Simms–New Boston, Texas||EF3||November 4||$7,000,000|
|Lushton, Nebraska||EF2||June 14||$6,200,000|