Is North America the only place where tornadoes occur?

mrlucky ordinarily demurs at the notion of answering questions which can be easily researched, but he is also wary of offending his bartender. Thus, it is with joy that I present this answer to Jamie, bartender of Chicago’s esteemed Pepper Lounge. He asked if North America was the only land mass to ‘enjoy’ the meteorological phenomenon of tornadoes.

It only took a visit to the Encyclopædia Brittanica to determine that the western land mass is merely the most frequent recipient of nature’s most violent of atmospheric storms. An average of 628 tornadoes per year was reported here during the period 1953-1965. It seems likely that the USA leads the world, although direct comparisons of relative tornado frequencies are biased by inadequate reporting from sparsely settled regions. Australia has the dubious honor of second place. Other countries which have reported tornadoes include, but are not limited to Great Britain, Canada, China, France, Germany, The Netherlands, Hungary, India, Italy, Japan, the Soviet Union, and even Bermuda and the Fiji Islands.

That being said, it still amazes most people to learn that tornadoes have been reported in every state of the Union, including Alaska and Hawaii. The vast majority, however, occur in a belt embracing the Great Plains and the southeastern portion of the USA Further refining the place where tornadophobes fear to tread, avoid these areas in May. And be scarce between 4 and 6 PM, the warmest part of the day. One quarter of all tornadoes strike at that time.

Modern meteorological tools such as networks of Doppler radar and the bravery of scientists like Howard Bluestein and his band of tornado chasers from the University of Oklahoma, who risked their lives to analyze these killer storms by lugging around a 400 pound Totable Tornado Observatory (TOTO) into the path of oncoming tornadoes, have increased the probability of surviving these furious, quixotic storms, at least in the USA. But without warning, humans have a purely random chance of cheating the fickle funnels. Of course, Captain Roy Hall and his family survived a twister on May 3, 1943 and provided us with a gripping account of their experience as the roof of their house was ripped off and they were trapped inside the funnel!

Ed Zoti, editor of "The Straight Dope", revealed a modern early warning system that the whole family can enjoy in his book Know It All! Tune your TV set to channel 13 (broadcast, not cable) and turn the brightness down until the picture is almost—but not completely—black. Then tune to channel 2. You will see lightning bolts affect your picture as flashes on the screen. But when the picture suddenly becomes bright enough to be seen, or the screen glows with an even light, get the hell out! Tornadoes create electrical interference at the same frequency as channel 2. When the picture gets suddenly brighter, it means there is a twister within 20 miles.

To summarize, there are few places on Earth truly safe from tornadoes. Although the USA receives the lion’s share of them, the advanced state of meteorological warning systems here make this a likely place to survive. That’s the silver lining in the mammatus cloud formation.

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