WRAL WeatherCenter Blog

Tornado Trivia

Posted March 16, 2006

This is Severe Weather Awareness Week in North Carolina and one of the topics we discussed was tornadoes. Here is a bit from the National Weather Service on the subject.

Tornadoes are one of nature's most violent phenomena. Spring tornadoes when they occur typically touch down in the months of March, April and May though tornadoes have touched down in the state in all months. A smaller secondary peak in tornado activity also occurs in the fall usually in November. Violent tornadoes with winds in excess of 200 mph have struck the area as early as late March as in the case of the 1984 Red Springs Tornado and as late as November as was the case of 1988 Raleigh Tornado.

Over the past 10 years. Nearly 400 tornadoes have struck North Carolina resulting in several deaths, nearly 300 reported injuries and over 230 million dollars in damage. Fortunately, most of tornadoes that strike the area are relatively weak and short lived. However, even weak tornadoes pack winds of 60 to 110 mph.

In essence a tornado is a violently rotating column of air extending from a
thunderstorm to the ground. Tornadoes can occur virtually any time
of the year and any time of day or night. Most tornado deaths and injuries across the state have occurred outdoors, in automobiles, and mobile homes. When a tornado warning is issued for your area or if you spot a tornado. Seek shelter in a substantial building.

The safest place is in an interior bathroom or closet. Put as many walls between you and the
outside as possible. Stay away from windows as debris picked up by a tornado can easily shatter a window and enter your house.

The following graphics below show the locations of tornado touchdowns across the state from the period 1950-2003. As you can see our state has seen its share of tornadoes with a higher concentration in the eastern half of the state.

The dark blue/larger funnels denote the more intense tornadoes. Of course the one in Wake county is the tornado that tore through north Raleigh in late November 1988. It was an F4 on the fujita scale. The large blue funnel in Robeson county is the March 28, 1984 Red Springs tornado. It too was an F4. It was the beginning of a series of tornadoes that ripped through Robeson, Bladen, Sampson, Duplin, Lenoir, Greene and Pitt counties. The series of tornadoes varied in intensity from F3-F4 and was responsible for 42 deaths.

Here are the actual accounts of the tornadoes from the National Weather Service:

Red Springs tornado:

Wake County tornado:

With the intense cyclones comes the higher potential death toll and as you look at the counties above that experienced the larger tornadoes, there is a correlation to the graphic below with the number of fatalities.

I would like to thank the State Climate Office for the use of their material in developing the graphics and also Chris Thompson for putting in the leg work to build them!

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