I grew up in New England, about 30 miles from the Atlantic coast. In my time, I’ve weathered a few hurricanes (including ones that could have spawned tornadic activity), as well as T.S. Allison while living in Houston. For the larger part of the last eight years, I’ve lived in Texas’ Permian Basin, which is quite a hotbed for tornadoes. Of the two, I’d say a tornado is much worse.
Why would a tornado be worse? After all, they typically affect a much smaller area than a hurricane would. However, tornadoes often form without any real warning. When a hurricane is expected to make landfall, people in its path usually have a few days to make preparations. When a tornado hits, you might have only minutes or seconds to get to cover. While many communities have sirens to warn people of a tornado, these are usually only sounded when one is on the ground. Not to mention that some types of structures, such as mobile homes, are especially vulnerable to a tornado’s high winds. The speed at which a tornado often approaches makes it pretty well impossible to secure your house.
While living in Houston, I had a near-miss with a tornado during a bad thunderstorm. The tornado touched down about six blocks from the house I was living in. My first indication that something was wrong was when I heard a noise like a train-and it was not coming from where the train tracks were. Fortunately, I kept my wits about me and took shelter in an interior hallway.
An online guide on NOAA’s websites describes tornadoes as “nature’s most violent storms” (1)
Wind speeds in a tornado can reach 250-300 mph easily. By contrast, strong hurricane winds can range from 150-200 mph, sometimes more. (2) The strong, violent winds of a tornado can cause heavy objects, such as cars, to be picked up and thrown. It was reported that, when the Worcester, MA tornado hit in 1953, mattress parts were picked up by the tornado and eventually fell in Boston Harbor(3)
A tornado can be especially dangerous because of some misconceptions that people have about keeping safe. After seeing video footage on the news of people taking refuge under a highway overpass, many people believe this is safe. However, research has shown that a wind tunnel effect takes place in these circumstances. (4) A person sheltering under an overpass is in a dangerous position.
Another foolhardy move that some people make is to try to outrun a tornado if one touches down when they’re in a car. The tornado’s winds can easily pick up a car. If you’re caught outside or in a vehicle, FEMA recommends seeking shelter in a sturdy building or even in a low-lying area such as a ditch. (5) When it comes to something as violent as a tornado, you don’t want to take chances!
While a hurricane is dangerous in its own way, the unpredictability of tornadoes makes them much worse.