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Severe Storms
 Photo of Storm Surge from Hurricane Carol Courtesy of NOAA
Dangerous Storms
Thunderstorms affect relatively small areas when compared with hurricanes. The typical thunderstorm is 15 miles in diameter and lasts an average of 30 minutes. Despite their small size, all thunderstorms are dangerous! Of the estimated 100,000 thunderstorms that occur each year in the United States, about 10 percent are classified as severe.

Although tornadoes occur in many parts of the world, they are found most frequently in the United States.
  • A tornado is a violently rotating column of air extending from a thunderstorm to the ground.
  • Tornadoes cause an average of 70 fatalities and 1,500 injuries in the U.S. each year..
  • The strongest tornadoes have rotating winds of more than 250 mph.
  • Tornadoes can be one mile wide and stay on the ground over 50 miles.
  • Tornadoes may appear nearly transparent until dust and debris are picked up or a cloud forms within the funnel. The average tornado moves from southwest to northeast, but tornadoes have been known to move in any direction.
  • The average forward speed is 30 mph but may vary from nearly stationary to 70 mph.
  • Waterspouts are tornadoes which form over warm water. They can move onshore and cause damage to coastal areas.
  • Lightning causes an average of about 60 fatalities and 300 injuries each year.
  • Lightning occurs in all thunderstorms; each year lightning strikes the United States 25 million times.
  • The energy from one lightning flash could light a 100-watt light bulb for more than three months.
  • Most lightning fatalities and injuries occur when people are caught outdoors in the summer months during the afternoon and evening.
  • Lightning can occur from cloud-to-cloud, within a cloud, cloud-to-ground, or cloud-to-air.
  • Many fires in the western United States are started by lightning.
  • The air near a lightning strike is heated to 50,000°F–hotter than the surface of the sun!
  • The rapid heating and cooling of the air near the lightning channel causes a shock wave that results in thunder.

When Thunder Roars, Go Indoors, the NWS lighnting safety site, helps you learn more about lightning risks and how to protect yourself, your loved ones and your belongings. The site offers a comprehensive page of handouts, brochures, links and more.

View additional severe storm hazards.

Additional Resources