how fast is a tornado wind

How fast is a tornado wind? You may say “very fast” but can you say for sure?

It is not always the case that a tornado will take you to Oz, so you have to be as careful as possible.

In all their forms, tornadoes can be extremely dangerous because of the high winds they generate. But how fast is wind in a tornado?

It is hard to measure the wind speed but tornadoes can sometimes be as fast as 318 mph.

Fact: The Tri-State Tornado is the deadliest F5 tornado hitting Illinois, Missouri, and Indiana in 1925. 

Enter the World of Tornadoes

tornado approaching in grassland

A tornado’s energy is derived from a thunderstorm’s downpour.

Tornadoes, for all their destructive potential, only contribute to a negligible portion of a thunderstorm’s total energy.

The threat comes from their focused force, which is only a few hundred yards wide at most. But, you need to know that not every tornado is the same. 

And science still has not figured out how a small fraction of the energy in a thunderstorm can be concentrated in a tornado. 

The Problem of Wind Speed in a Tornado

tornado landed on grassland

Sizes of tornadoes can vary widely, from only a few yards to more than a mile across.

They may go from seemingly immobile to moving at high speed and great force. A tornado’s size and shape do not always indicate its destructive potential.

Therefore, tornadoes should be treated seriously at all times since their strength can fluctuate rapidly.

Speaking of the destruction tornadoes can cause, it is important to be wary of vertical winds. They can briefly lift heavy items, including people or cars, hundreds of feet into the air.  

Fact: An EF5 tornado that hit Joplin in 2011 was the most expensive tornado with insurance companies paying out more than $2.8 billion. 

How Fast is a Tornado Wind?

concept of devastating tornado

Tornadoes can be extremely powerful. In fact, they can be as fast as 318 mph, which was the case with the tornado hitting the Oklahoma City suburbs in 1999.

Before 2007, the F-scale created by Dr. Theodore (Ted) Fujita was the most extensively used measure globally for evaluating tornadoes’ power and wind speed.

Since 2007, in the United States, the Enhanced F-scale has been used to measure the severity of tornadoes and the damage they cause. 

An Important Consideration

Although the Beaufort wind scale was used as a basis for the original F-scale, its accuracy had never been empirically tested in actual tornadoes. 

A Bit About Enhanced F-Scale

Engineering criteria are used to generate the improved F-scale winds, but they are still simply educated guesses.

This is due to the fact that:

  • In most tornadoes, the “actual” wind speeds at ground level are unknown
  • The force of wind required to create seemingly identical damage varies.

The truth is that ranking damage is, at best, a game of informed guesswork.

It means that tornado strength estimates can be debated by even seasoned wind engineers and damage survey meteorologists.

Fact: The largest tornado with a speed of 302mph hit Bridge Creek, OK in 1999. 

Tornado Classification

different types of tornadoes

Speaking of tornadoes based on their wind speeds, it is possible to divide them into three categories.

  • Weak (EF0, EF1)
  • Strong (EF2, EF3)
  • Violent (EF4, EF5)

Based on this classification, you can get some idea about wind speeds.

For instance:

  • A tornado is considered weak when wind speeds are between 65 and 110mph.
  • A tornado is strong when the wind speeds range from 111mph to 165 mph.
  • A tornado is violent if the wind speeds hit 200mph or more.

What’s more, you can get an idea about the possible wind speed of a tornado based on its EF numbers.

For instance:

EF NumberSpeed
0Between 65mph and 85mph
1Between 86mph and 110mph
3Between 111mph and 135mph
4Between 166mph and 200mph
5Over 200mph

Type of Damage Done by Tornado Wind

tornado aftermath

So, you know how fast is a tornado wind speed? Well, this information can also help you determine the damage it can cause.

For instance: 

Gale Tornado

damage tree branches

With an F-scale number of F0, it may have a wind speed of 40-72mph.

It can:

  • Break branches off trees
  • Damage chimneys
  • Push shallow trees
  • Destruct sign boards 

Moderate Tornado

With an F-scale number of F1, it can be as fast as 112mph. And it often represents the start of a hurricane wind speed.

It can:

  • Push mobile homes off foundations
  • Destroy roof surfaces
  • Destroy attached garages
  • Push vehicles off the roads 

Significant Tornado

destroyed roof frames

This F2 scale tornado can hit anywhere between 113-157mph and things can really get dangerous, as it can cause considerable damage.

It can:

  • Tear roof frames
  • Demolish mobile homes
  • Snap large trees
  • Push boxcars over 

Severe Tornado

large tree uprooted

With an F3 status, these tornadoes can be between 158mph and 206mph and are extremely dangerous.

A severe tornado can:

  • Overturn trains
  • Tear the roof off houses
  • Uproot trees in forests 

Devastating Tornado

devastating tornado

It is an F4-level tornado, which can be as fast as 260 mph. It can:

  • Level houses
  • Blow off structures with a weak base
  • Throw cars to large distances 

Incredible Tornado

Finally, an F5-level tornado is anything beyond 261mph. It can:

Understanding More about the Types of Tornadoes

Tornadoes that remain on land for extended periods can continue growing and shrinking.

Here are the most common types of tornadoes: 

Rope Tornado

Tornadoes usually start out as a rope tornadoes and end up as one as well, before they either intensify or fizzle out.

rope tornado in the open field

These tornadoes are among the smallest and most common. But, still, they pose a threat to anyone in their way, despite their diminutive size.

So, do not be deceived by their weaker size and speed; some of them actually strengthen as they contract. 

Cone Tornadoes

Many people picture a cone tornado when they think of a twister sweeping through the Plains in the US.

Like rope tornadoes, the term cone tornado comes from its appearance.

When they make contact with the ground, their pathways constrict and become increasingly deadly. 

An Important Consideration

Stovepipe tornadoes resemble cones but differ from them in that their base and their groundward end are the same width. 

Wedge Tornadoes

Wedge tornadoes are among the deadliest you can find. With a rating of EF-3, it can be more than half-mile wide.

A wedge tornado can be half a mile wide or more, and it will cause significant damage to anything in its path.

The El Reno tornado that swept across Oklahoma in 2013 was a wedge tornado and was among the deadliest in the country’s history.

At its widest point, this tornado was 2.6 miles across, making it the largest on record. 

Satellite Tornadoes

In rare circumstances, a storm might generate two tornadoes, each of which will spin in its own direction.

When there are two independent tornadoes in one, these are called satellite tornadoes. These occur on an exceedingly infrequent basis and can leave numerous destruction paths in their wake. 

An Important Consideration

A waterspout is a revolving column of wind that descends from cumulus clouds into the water below.

The maximum sustained wind speed for a spout is 200 mph, while its maximum transoceanic speed is 15 mph.

Fact: Keep in mind that waterspouts are technically always tornadoes, but tornado records only include them when they hit the land. 

Few Tips to Stay Safe During a Tornado

tornado warning sign

You need to listen to any warnings you get from the weather department, but if you ever witness a tornado, you should keep a few basics in mind.

  • Look for an underground basement or shelter of some sort.
  • Be sure to cover your head with a mattress or with your arms.
  • Be in a windowless room in case you cannot find an underground shelter.
  • Never be around windows during a tornado.
  • Do not be in your mobile home during a tornado, as it can be dangerous.
  • Never drive toward a tornado because it can abruptly change directions. 


massive damage in community

How fast is a tornado wind? Tornadoes can be rather stationary at times, but they can be violent too.

And that is because of their high wind speed, which can often hit 300 mph or more.

Keep in mind that it is still difficult to measure the exact wind speed as tornadoes hit the ground, but you can still divide them into different grades.

And those grades or classifications help you understand the damage they can do.