You can probably guess that most of the United States’ tornado activity occurs in the aptly named, “Tornado Alley.” The majority of the land in the American Midwest is prone to tornadoes, especially in the flat land of the Great Plains. Though there is no definitive border to Tornado Alley, its core dominates the states of Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, and part of northern Texas, but high numbers of tornadoes can occur even in areas like Colorado, the Dakotas, and Florida.
According to U.S. Tornadoes, Tennessee is the state hardest hit by tornadoes, and can experience up to 72 in one day during peak season even though most of the state is not in the centre of Tornado Alley. Oklahoma is in a close second, with 70 tornadoes touching down in one day. To be defined as a tornado, it must touch the ground and be a convective cloud at the same time, and the U.S. Tornadoes list doesn’t account for tornado-like weather and strong winds in the states.
The Midwest and Plains regions have the highest concentration of tornadoes on earth, and despite tornadoes occurring on other continents, amateur storm chasers should check out these locations to find their next tornado (though you should probably leave that to the pros).
25 Kansas City, Missouri
Although it shares a name with the state, Kansas City is actually a major city in western Missouri. With a population of over two million, the city’s infrastructure would be devastated in the event of a severe tornado.
Nevertheless, the city and the surrounding area see hundreds of less apocalyptic tornadoes a year. Straddling the border between Kansas and Missouri, it’s near the epicentre of Tornado Alley and has a high chance of experiencing hit with storms. But the Missourians seem to be proud of it—they've named their professional basketball team the Kansas City Tornadoes.
24 Omaha, Nebraska
When you think of Nebraska, you probably picture cornfields, cows, tractors, and tornadoes. Despite Omaha being a bustling city with a strong cultural background, most tend to think Nebraska is one huge field with only dirt roads crossing it.
As the northern part of the centre of Tornado Alley, Nebraska is frequently hit with tornadoes, and they plow through everything in their paths, including cities. In 1975, a violent storm hit the Omaha area, costing three people their lives and injuring over one hundred over a two-day period. If a storm this bad hit the area once, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see it happen again.
23 Wichita, Kansas
Kansas is so famous for its tornadoes, the early film industry even simulated one in the classic movie, The Wizard of Oz. Though Wichita is no longer cattle-grazing farmland, it still sees tornadoes like the one that whisked Dorothy away to Oz (okay, maybe they don’t carry houses off to other dimensions).
A former pioneering town during America’s expansion west, Wichita became a major checkpoint for those traveling to Colorado in the 1800s. It has since transformed from village of farms to a bustling, industrial centre, but that doesn’t mean tornadoes are careful to avoid it.
22 Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
Oklahoma is generally known as the heart of Tornado Alley, as it lays at the centre of storm activity in the Great Plains. Oklahoma City, the state’s largest metropolitan area, is familiar with violent storms that usually begin in the countryside and travel close to developed land.
The National Weather Service published a paper detailing the tornadoes that have struck the city in recent years, and concluded that thirteen tornadoes have touched down there, the most recent only in May 2013. Twice, in 2013 and 1978, the city saw five tornadoes in just one day.
21 Des Moines, Iowa
The capital of Iowa, Des Moines, isn’t a large city by any means, nor is it noted as a particularly attractive holiday destination for most, but it deserves credit for enduring severe Midwestern weather.
In 2018, Des Moines and surrounding Polk County suffered a rough tornado season, battered by storms. A tornado warning was last issued in the city in October, even though tornado season is usually at its worst in late spring. Des Moines sits at the centre of Iowa, and sees more tornadoes than other parts of the state. Two of the most powerful storms in years hit in 2018, at Pella and Marshalltown, towns not far outside Des Moines.
20 Dallas, Texas
Kansas City isn’t the only city to name a sports team after the local weather—the Dallas Tornado was a soccer team that played in the Texas city from the 1960s to 1980s. A huge city, Dallas is well equipped to face harsh weather. Texans are blessed with sunny, hot weather in the summer, but are forced to compensate in the spring during tornado season.
However, tornadoes here might not be so severe. Dallas News reported in June that North Texas had only seen five tornadoes in 2018, a surprisingly low number compared to other years.
19 Topeka, Kansas
The second major city in Kansas on this list, and the state’s capital, Topeka isn’t any less susceptible to tornadoes than Wichita, or the smaller farm towns in the state. The city is home to neoclassical architecture and some of Kansas’s most unique historical attractions narrating the state’s past during the Old West.
A series of tornadoes in 1966 was a huge event, shaping the local history. The F5-rated tornado sequence that struck Topeka between June 2 and 12 devastated the city, when 57 tornadoes caused 18 casualties and over 500 injuries.
18 Sioux Falls, South Dakota
Tornado activity begins to calm down a bit traveling north into South Dakota, but it’s still hit hard with harsh weather. Sioux Falls is a quiet, charming city on the eastern side of South Dakota, sitting on the banks of the Big Sioux River. You can see the low waterfalls that give the city its name at Falls Park, a calm reserve during summer in the city.
Sioux Falls isn’t always so calm, though. There have been 41 reported tornadoes touching down in the county since 1956, the largest being an F4 in 1993 that struck north of Sioux Falls.
17 Tulsa, Oklahoma
A former oil town, Tulsa, Oklahoma is now known for its art deco architecture and seat in the Green Country near the Ozark Mountains and the Osage Hills. The second largest city in the state, Tulsa was founded in the early part of the 19th century, but despite its oil business dwindling, the city is expected to grow and expand in the near future.
That is, assuming a massive tornado doesn’t wipe it out first. Its location in a hilly area helps to discourage extreme storms, but in August 2017, an EF5 tornado still managed to cause lasting damage to the community.
16 Lincoln, Nebraska
Lincoln, otherwise known as Star City, is the state capital of Nebraska and a sprawling metropolitan area built on salt marshes. The city is a major economic and cultural centre for the state, not only because it’s the capital but because it’s part of the Silicon Prairie—the Midwest’s Silicon Valley.
Tornado activity in the area doesn’t seem to affect the industry too adversely. There have been numerous tornadoes in Lancaster County, and most of the deadliest have been within 10 miles of downtown Lincoln. Only four tornadoes since 1950 have caused casualties in the city.
15 Springfield, Illinois
Tornadoes seem to like capital cities, because Illinois’ capital, Springfield, is another that’s plagued by them. Located in the central part of the state, Springfield is a quaint city, almost like a time capsule. You’ll easily come across museums and historical sites connected to Abraham Lincoln, who lived in the city.
One of the city’s most famous storms, however, struck the area in 2006 and raged for four days, causing over $1 billion in damage across a number of states. Springfield itself saw two tornadoes touch down during the period, though they were weak at a rating of F2.
14 Rochester, Minnesota
Minnesota isn’t an obvious state for tornado activity, but it still lies within the northern bounds of Tornado Alley. Tornadoes are more common in the southern half of the state, where the land is flatter and home to more farms than in the forested north.
Rochester is a city in southern Minnesota, and is the biggest in the state that would likely be struck by tornadoes. Rochester is home to the famous health organisation, the Mayo Clinic, and without a tornado, the clinic would not exist. After a bad bout of weather in 1883, the Mayo family established a hospital to treat the injured, which has since grown to become world-renowned.
13 Fayetteville, Arkansas
While Fayetteville, Arkansas is by no means a large city, it’s more prone to tornadoes than other parts of the state. Due to its close proximity with Oklahoma (and therefore, the heart of Tornado Alley) in the northwest corner of Arkansas, Fayetteville hasn’t got strong defenses against storms.
Western Arkansas gets a lot more storms than the eastern part of the state, but they’re still usually not as strong as those in nearby Oklahoma or Kansas. Unlike the daytime tornadoes in Oklahoma, Arkansas storms usually occur in late afternoon and into the night.
12 Orlando, Florida
Florida is no doubt more famous for the massive tropical hurricanes that berate the state during summer and autumn, but the tornado activity in America’s panhandle shouldn’t be overlooked, either.
The most common area in Florida to produce tornadoes is in the inland part of the panhandle, roughly around the city of Orlando. Known as the capital of theme parks, Orlando is home to the world-famous Walt Disney World, but don’t worry, Cinderella’s Castle probably isn’t going to blow away any time soon. Florida storms tend to be quite tame, but could still produce a waterspout if close enough to the ocean.
11 Indianapolis, Indiana
Indianapolis, affectionately known as Indy by locals, is the capital and largest city in Indiana. It’s one of the major cities farthest east for extreme tornado activity. Though Indiana’s tornadoes aren't as frequent as other states’, it does have the ideal climate and landscape for brewing storms.
The National Weather Service has recorded 45 tornadoes in Marion County between 1952 and 2017. The last tornado to touch down in the Indianapolis metro area was in 2012, though it was a weak tornado that probably resembled more of a strong thunderstorm.
10 Springfield, Missouri
The second city on this list called Springfield, and the second Springfield where tornadoes are common, this city in Missouri isn’t far from its namesake in Illinois. Located in the heart of the Ozark Mountains, Springfield is surrounded by natural wonders, both above and below ground. It’s also got some pretty amazing meteorological features, too.
Just in early December 2018, six tornadoes were confirmed by the National Weather Service to have touched down in the Ozarks, long away from the usual tornado season. It proves that no matter what time of year or where you are, a tornado may just appear.
9 Cedar Rapids, Iowa
Traveling back to Iowa, Cedar Rapids is smaller than Des Moines, though no less modern. Split by the Cedar River, severe storms could easily flood the city, which has happened in the past. Remnants of Hurricane Paine flooded the city for a week in 2016.
Cedar Rapids still gets regular tornadoes, but the worst was back in April 1954, when an F4 category storm tore through Linn County, picking up farmhouses and barns and carrying them off. Other houses were damaged by lightning and rain, causing power outages and flooding.
8 Austin, Texas
Austin is located just south of the hardest hit tornado area in Texas, but that doesn’t mean it’s immune to storms. Austin is the fourth-largest city in Texas, and its capital, as well as being regarded as Texas’ capital of culture as well. It’s the fastest growing city in the U.S., with people flocking to work at its Fortune 500 companies and enjoy its quality of life.
The city is just outside Tornado Alley, meaning the area sees the odd twister here and there, but they’re usually low-rated storms. However, in 1922, Austin experienced twin tornadoes, an F2 and F4, causing $400,000 in damage.
7 St. Louis, Missouri
With its iconic Gateway Arch, the massive landmark that honours explorers Lewis and Clark, St. Louis is a darling of the South. Seeped in southern hospitality and made contemporary with industry and its huge university, St. Louis University, the city embodies the American spirit.
But just like any other city, it has its drawbacks, and unless you’re a storm chaser, you’ll have to sit quietly through a few twisters. The third deadliest in U.S. tornado history occurred in the St. Louis area in 1896, and more recently, a 2011 storm caused $30 million in damage to the city.
6 Fargo, North Dakota
Fargo is often called The Gateway to the West, and once settlers crossed into North Dakota from the east, the land rapidly changed from forests to plateaus. It’s a charismatic city in the northern U.S., but is often overlooked and is sometimes known only for the movie and television series of the same name.
Despite a bad tornado outbreak in 1957 that destroyed the northern part of the city, Fargo grew quickly and redeveloped the ruined neighbourhoods, expanding farther and faster than before. Ted Fujita, who developed the modern Fujita scale of rating tornadoes, studied the Fargo tornado to help develop storm categories.
5 Shreveport, Louisiana
Shreveport, a city in the northwest corner of Louisiana, built on the banks of the Red River on the route to Texas. In its early days, Shreveport’s economy revolved around the oil industry, and was one of the biggest oil towns in the U.S. Now, it’s the centre of Ark-La-Tex, where Arkansas, Lousiana, and Texas meet.
A tornado, notable though not one of the area’s worst, touched down in Shreveport in April 2018, yanking trees up by their roots and caving in buildings. The storm caused power outages for days, and the community required assistance from the state’s government for cleanup.
4 Columbus, Ohio
Columbus, Ohio is as far northeast as this list goes, though it’s very possible for tornadoes to form in states further east in New England. Columbus is a city of parks and recreational areas along the Scioto River, which runs through the city.
Forbes recently reported that Columbus’ economy is booming, despite the average decline of Midwestern cities, and has been rapidly growing from 2010 to 2017. It seems as though those who move to the Ohio city aren’t afraid of a little thunder. An EF1 tornado severely damaged the east side of the city in September 2018, even though the funnel itself didn’t touch down in the city.
3 San Antonio, Texas
Even though San Antonio is a bustling, huge city, it often goes overlooked by other Texas cities. It’s got something to offer everyone—Fortune 500 companies, Spanish colonial architecture, the state-of-the-art South Texas Medical Center, and a beautiful downtown river walk. Located in southern Texas, it just evades severe tornado areas.
Still, they happen. In 2017, four tornadoes raged through the city, destroying homes. Thankfully, nobody was severely injured, though many buildings were damaged beyond repair. In February 2018, one year after the tornadoes, most residents had rebuilt or relocated.
2 Little Rock, Arkansas
Little Rock is the capital of Arkansas, and was originally named La Petite Roche by French explorer Jean-Baptiste Benard de la Harpe. Its history can be traced all the way back to the 1720s, making it one of the oldest in the South.
In 300 years of existence, a tornado hasn’t managed to consume the city, but it’s not for a lack of trying. Arkansas has its own Tornado Alley, crossing the state diagonally from Arkadelphia, through Little Rock, and to Jonesboro. Tornado deaths are high in this strip of the state, according to the National Weather Service.
1 Jackson, Mississippi
The only large city in Mississippi that has a high potential for tornadoes touching down is Jackson. This is because it sits on the Jackson Prairie, a huge area of flat grassland in Mississippi. This modestly sized city is known as the City with Soul, due to the tradition of rock, blues, and jazz that emerged in the 20th century.
Tornadoes are common enough in Jackson, and 35 were reported in the area from January to September 2018. Its worst, however, was in 1966, when an F5 storm flattened buildings in the city and traveled all the way into Alabama.
References: US Tornadoes, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Weather Service, Forbes