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Q&A: Texas, not Oklahoma, tops in tornadoes

A tornado passes south of Oklahoma City on May 20, devastating Moore, Okla., with winds that at times topped 200 miles per hour.

Associated Press

A tornado passes south of Oklahoma City on May 20, devastating Moore, Okla., with winds that at times topped 200 miles per hour.

Oklahoma fourth in tornadoes

A friend told me that Oklahoma gets more tornadoes than any other state. Is that correct?

Cold, dry air flowing east from the Rocky Mountains colliding with warm, moist air from the Gulf of Mexico, usually in spring, is the formula that makes the United States the tornado capital of the world. And most of those 1,250 tornadoes that hit the country each year happen in the Midwest.

Oklahoma is in that area that many people call Tornado Alley, and it ranks fourth among states in the average number of tornadoes per year, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Climatic Data Center.

Texas is the state that saw the most tornadoes in the period from 1991-2001, with an average of 155 a year. Kansas is second with an average of 96 a year, followed by Florida with 66 and Oklahoma with 62.

The top 10 is rounded out by Nebraska (57), Illinois (54), Colorado (53), Iowa (51), Minnesota (45) and Missouri (45).

Kansas is the state that sees the most violent tornadoes, an average of 3.1 per year, followed by Arkansas (2.9), Texas (2.8) and Tennessee and Oklahoma (2.7). The United States gets an average of 37.5 of these most destructive tornadoes annually. Florida gets less than 1 of these a year (0.4 annual average).

The states seeing the fewest tornadoes annually: Alaska and Rhode Island (0); Hawaii, Vermont, New Hampshire, Delaware, Maryland and Massachusetts (1); and Maine, Connecticut, New Jersey, West Virginia and Nevada (2).

The worst months for tornadoes are usually April, May and June. In 2012, 46.6 percent of all tornadoes in the United States occurred in those months. In 2011, 73.6 percent of tornadoes happened in April, May or June.

The worst tornado on record occurred on March 18, 1925, hitting Missouri, Illinois and Indiana and killing 2,025 people.

Friction destroys meteors

Why do meteors explode in the atmosphere?

Meteors and other space debris travel through the vacuum of space at extremely high speeds. When a meteor enters the Earth's atmosphere, it creates friction and pressure that cause the meteor to heat and glow before it explodes or shatters into smaller pieces, most often in the part of the atmosphere called the mesosphere.

Most meteors disintegrate before they reach Earth. The meteor that exploded about 12 to 15 miles over Russia on Feb. 15 likely was 55 to 65 feet in diameter and weighed about 10,000 tons.

NASA reported that the meteor exploded with the force of somewhere between 440 and 500 kilotons of TNT, or more than 30 to 40 times the energy of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima in 1945. Only small pieces have been recovered.

Q&A: Texas, not Oklahoma, tops in tornadoes 05/26/13 [Last modified: Wednesday, May 22, 2013 4:09pm]
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