Q: Is it true that tornadoes always move in the same direction?
A: That’s not true, says Brent McRoberts of Texas A&M University. “Tornadoes can move in any direction,” he explains. “Most of them move from the southwest to the northeast, but not all do. It used to be thought that all tornadoes moved to the northeast, but now we know that they can move in any direction. Tornadoes develop out of thunderstorms, and they generally move in whatever direction the thunderstorm is moving.
Q: Do they make sudden changes in direction?
A: They can, but sharp turns are not common, he says. “Most tornadoes keep going along the same general path and any change of direction is slight,” McRoberts adds. “When a tornado does make a change in direction, it is usually due to changes in the structure of the thunderstorm from which it was spawned. Perhaps the greatest example of a tornado staying on path was the famous Tri-State tornado of March 1925. It stayed on roughly the same path for an amazing 219 miles, moving from southeast Missouri, crossing Illinois and heading on to southwest Indiana – the usual path of moving from the south to the northeast that most tornadoes make. It moved at 73 miles per hour, killed 695 people, destroyed 15,000 homes and damaged 164 square miles and was at times one mile in width.”
Weather Whys is a service of the Department of Atmospheric Sciences at Texas A&M University.