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2000 Tornadoes

March 2, 2001 — The tornado year of 2000 will go down in the weather books as below normal, yet it featured events that happened during rare times of the year, and at rare times of the day. Preliminary data for the year indicate only 898 tornadoes reported across the United States, which is down 27 percent from the annual average of 1,214. This is also the lowest total in one year since 1984 when there were 907 tornadoes. The number of tornadoes reported in 2000 was 36 percent fewer than in 1999 and 39 percent less than the record year of 1998.

During the cold months of January, February and December, abnormally high numbers of tornadoes were reported. In contrast, the count during the summer months of June, August and September was much lower than normal.

The year's first tornado was reported on Jan. 3 in Jordan, Ark., and the last one occurred Dec. 17 in Calhoun Falls, S. C. The most dramatic tornado event was March 28 when a tornado moved into downtown Ft. Worth, Texas, around 7 p.m. CST and another approached the area of Arlington, Texas, just south of Dallas, an hour later.

Only three tornadoes in 2000 were considered violent, where the damage was rated F4 or higher on the Fujita Scale. No damage from tornadoes earned the rating of F5. The first violent tornado did not occur until late July, as a tornado severely damaged homes and overturned a flat bed railroad car near Granite Falls, Minn. The other tornadoes that caused F4 damage occurred Sept. 20 in Xenia, Ohio, and Dec. 16 near Tuscaloosa, Ala.

The number of deaths caused by tornadoes was also down in the year 2000. The total of 40 fatalities is the lowest since 1996, when there were 27 deaths. Tornado deaths in 2000 were caused by 14 killer tornadoes compared to 31 in 1999 and 33 in 1998. The deadliest tornadoes of 2000 occurred at opposite ends of the year. Eleven people died as a result of the tornado that struck Camilla, Ga., on Feb. 13. Another 11 people were killed in association with the Tuscaloosa, Ala., tornado on Dec. 16.

2000 Fatal Tornadoes

  • Geneva, Ala., Dec. 17 - F2, 1 fatality;
  • Tuscaloosa, Ala., Dec. 16 - F4, 11 fatalities;
    Martin, S.C., Sept. 22 - F1, 1 fatality, 3 mobile homes destroyed, major damage to 2 mobile homes;
  • Xenia, Ohio, Sept. 20 - F4, 1 fatality, man killed as tree fell onto his car;
  • Granite Falls, Minn., July 25 - F4, 1 fatality, elderly man found dead underneath truck;
    Walling, Texas, May 12 - F3, 1 fatality;
  • Cedar Falls, Iowa, May 11 - F3, 1 fatality, woman died later from injuries;
  • Wartrace, Tenn., April 20 - F1, 1 fatality; Piedmont, Ala., April 2 - F2 - 1 fatality;
  • Ft. Worth, Texas, March 28 - F2, 2 fatalities, this tornado hit downtown Ft. Worth;
  • Crosland, Ga., Feb. 14 - F2, 1 fatality, major damage reported;
  • Omega, Ga., Feb. 14 - F2, 1 fatality, major damage reported, deaths outdoors were due to fallen wall;
  • Meigs, Ga., Feb. 14 - F3, 6 fatalities, extensive damage to subdivision, numerous injuries;
  • Camilla, Ga., Feb. 13 - F3, 11 fatalities and numerous injuries, major damage to two subdivisions and four mobile home parks.

1999 Tornado Outbreaks
Six major tornado outbreaks occurred in the United States during 1999, with half of them hitting at unusual times of the year—during the winter months of January and December. The total number of tornadoes reported in 1999 was 1,225, which is 200 fewer than 1998 when there were 1,424 tornadoes, the busiest year on record. The 1999 total ranks the fourth highest since NOAA's records began in 1950. A total of 94 deaths occurred from 29 killer tornadoes.

In January, a record-breaking 216 tornadoes ripped through the lower Mississippi and Tennessee Valleys, more than tripling the previous record of 50 in the first month set in 1997. A total of 66 tornadoes on May 3 in Oklahoma and Kansas contributed to May's monthly total of 323, the highest for the year. June followed with a total of 275 tornadoes and January had the third highest total with 216.

In addition to cool weather occurrences, tornadoes hit four major cities: Little Rock, Ark., Cincinnati, Ohio, Oklahoma City, Okla. and Salt Lake City, Utah.

Major Cities Struck by Tornadoes Since 1997

Ft. Worth, Texas, March 28, 2000—A tornado struck buildings in downtown Ft. Worth, just as the evening rush hour was ending. A second tornado hit he area of Arlington, Texas, just south of Dallas, an hour later. Two people were killed and more than 100 buildings were damaged;

Salt Lake City, Utah, Aug.11, 1999 - 1 fatality, damage $150 million;

Oklahoma City, Okla., May 3, 1999 - May 3, a long track violent F5 tornado traveled from Chickasha, Okla., through rural sections of Central Oklahoma, as well as densely populated areas of Oklahoma City and its suburbs. In the wake of this single tornado there were 42 people dead, several hundred injured and more than $1 billion in damage. This tornado was part of a rare and significant outbreak of 61 tornadoes throughout Oklahoma and Kansas;

Wichita, Kan., May 3, 1999 - Another violent tornado, rated F4 intensity, plowed through Haysville in suburban Wichita, Kansas, shortly after the Oklahoma City tornado. This tornado was responsible for 6 deaths, 150 injuries and more than $140 million in damage;

Little Rock, Ark., Jan 21, 1999 - F3, 3 fatalities. There were 51 tornadoes statewide this day in Arkansas, which is nearly three times the average number of tornadoes per year for the area;

Nashville, Tenn., April 16, 1998 - F3, 1 fatality, 60 injured, $100 million in damage. This tornado struck downtown Nashville;

Birmingham, Ala., April 8, 1998 - F5, 33 fatalities, over 258 injured, $202 million in damage. This tornado struck about two miles away from downtown;

Miami, Fla., May 12, 1997 - F1, no fatalities, 12 injuries, $525,000 in damage. A dramatic tornado that struck near downtown Miami and lasted about 15 minutes;

The Deadliest, Biggest and Costliest Outbreaks

The Tri-State Tornado Outbreak of March 18, 1925 killed 689 people in Missouri, Illinois and Indiana. Murphrysboro, Ill., had 234 of those deaths and West Frankfort, Ill., had 127;

Other deadly tornadoes include the May 6, 1840 tornado that killed 317 people in Natchez, Miss.; and the May 27, 1896, tornado killed 255 in St. Louis, Mo. In 1936, tornadoes on successive days killed 216 people in Tupelo, Miss., on April 5, and 203 people in Gainesville, Ga., on April 6;

The April 3 - 4, 1974 Super Outbreak was the largest known outbreak, with 148 tornadoes in 11 states, killing 315 people, injuring more than 5,300 and causing damage in excess of $600 million. Alabama, Kentucky and Ohio were the states hardest hit. Perhaps the most notable tornado of the outbreak was the one that began southwest of Xenia, Ohio. The violent tornado killed 34 people and destroyed half the town. Damages were more than $100 million;

The second most devastating outbreak of tornadoes in modern record was the 1965 Palm Sunday outbreak. Severe thunderstorms in the Upper Midwest spawned a total of 48 tornadoes within 12 hours. Indiana, Ohio and Michigan were hardest hit. These tornadoes killed 256 people and caused more than $200 million in damages. Two powerful tornadoes, about 30 minutes apart, traveled almost identical paths across Branch, Hilsdale, Lenawee and Monroe counties in extreme south-central and southeastern Lower Michigan, and killed 44 people. In Lenawee County the damage path was four miles wide. Damage caused by these two tornadoes was more than $32 million dollars;

Preparing For Tornadoes
Tornadoes can occur anywhere and at any time of the year. Peak tornado season in the southern states is in March through May, while peak months in the northern states are during the summer. Tornadoes are most likely to occur between 3 and 9 p.m., but can happen all hours of the day or night.

Key Safety Rules

  • In a home or building, move to a pre-designated shelter, such as a basement.
  • If an underground shelter is not available, move to a small interior room or hallway on the lowest floor and get under a sturdy piece of furniture. Put as many walls as possible between you and the outside.
  • Stay away from windows.
  • If caught outside in a vehicle, do not try to outrun a tornado. Get out of the vehicle and seek safe shelter. Lie flat in a nearby ditch or depression and cover your head with your hands.
  • Be aware of flying debris. Flying debris from tornadoes causes most deaths and injuries.
  • Mobile homes, even if tied down, offer little protection from tornadoes. You should leave a mobile home and go to the lowest floor of a sturdy nearby building or a storm shelter.
  • Occasionally, tornadoes develop so rapidly that advance warning is not possible. Remain alert for signs of an approaching tornado such as a dark, often greenish sky, large hail, or a loud roar similar to a freight train.

Watches versus Warnings

Watch: Tornadoes are possible in your area. Remain alert for approaching storms and rapidly changing weather conditions. Know what counties or parishes are in the watch area by listening to NOAA Weather Radio or your local television outlets.

Warning: A tornado has been sighted or indicated by weather radar. A warning indicates imminent danger to life and property to those in the path of the storm, move to your pre-designated place of safety.

* National Weather Service watches and warnings are also available on the Internet at:

Fujita Tornado Damage Scale

Category F0: Light Damage (<73 mph); Some damage to chimneys; branches broken off trees; shallow-rooted trees pushed over; sign boards damaged.

Category F1: Moderate Damage (73-112 mph); Peels surface off roofs; mobile homes pushed off foundations or overturned; moving autos blown off road.

Category F2: Considerable Damage (113-157 mph); Roofs torn off frame houses; mobile homes demolished; boxcars overturned; large trees snapped or uprooted; light-object missiles generated; cars lifted off ground.

Category F3: Severe Damage (158- 206 mph); Roofs and some walls torn off well-constructed houses, trains overturned; most trees in forest uprooted; heavy cars lifted off ground and thrown.

Category F4: Devastating Damage (207- 260 mph); Well-constructed houses leveled; structure with weak foundations blown off some distance; cars thrown and large missiles generated.

Category F5: Incredible Damage (261- 318 mph); Strong frame houses lifted off foundations and swept away; automobile sized missiles fly through the air in excess of 100 meters (109 yds); trees debarked; incredible phenomena will occur.

***IMPORTANT NOTE ABOUT F-SCALE WINDS: Do not use F-scale winds literally. These wind speed numbers are estimates and have never been scientifically verified. Different wind speeds may cause similar-looking damage from place to place—even from building to building. Without a thorough engineering analysis of tornado damage in any event, the actual wind speeds needed to cause that damage are unknown.

For more information on tornadoes and severe weather see the following NOAA Web sites:

NOAA's Storm Prediction Center

NOAA's National Severe Storms Laboratory

Tornadoes... Nature's Most Violent Storms

Vortex: Unraveling the Secrets

NOAA's Tornadoes Page

Posted March 2, 2001