A large tornado moves through Rochelle, Illinois, earlier this month. Walker Ashley/AP

Where and when you'll normally encounter the most violent twisters—mapped.

It's black and thundering out, with rain slashing at the windows and wind bashing the door like an enraged buffalo. Is this just a bad storm, or is it an incoming tornado about to make your life hell?

Staying on top of weather alerts always helps with that question. But for folks who want to know the odds ahead of time, check out this great map from U.S. Tornadoes. Using data from the Storm Prediction Center, it shows which month of the year every county in the contiguous United States hits its average peak tornado season. (Larger, interactive version here.)

U.S. Tornadoes

Pick a month and you'll see, highlighted in white boxes, the places that normally encounter the most violent, swirling funnels at that time. Here's April, for instance—cities right now in their historical tornadic highs include Dallas; Little Rock, Arkansas; and Jackson, Mississippi.

U.S. Tornadoes

Though tornadoes can strike almost anywhere, anytime, they tend to follow a migratory cycle. The U.S. Tornadoes crew explains more:

As we've shown in a number of other articles, tornadoes are like snowbirds—they winter in the South. Even there, cool and dry is the name of the game more often than not in the weeks around the new year when tornado tallies reach their minimum. Cold-season tornadoes are generally limited, but larger events happen.

Moving out of winter, we typically see tornadoes move back north and northwest through the Mid-South and Southeast during early spring, then into the Midwest and Plains heading into summer. The main tornado zone ultimately reaches the U.S./Canada border area by July or so, before crashing back southward (with occasional outbursts) during fall.

Tornadoes' favorite stomping ground in the country's midsection—home to the screamin' Tornado and Dixie alleys—is illustrated in this other map, with solid-colored counties racking up an average of more than 25 twisters that month. The summertime hot spots in Florida, for what it's worth, are heavily influenced by hurricanes and other powerful sea tempests.

U.S. Tornadoes

Next month, 'burbs entering their typical annual peak will include Atlanta, Houston, Raleigh, Wichita, and Oklahoma City. Residents who'd rather escape the swirls this time around might consider vacationing in areas with a May average of zero tornadoes, such as Mineral, Nevada (population 4,772); the perpetually moist Whatcom, Washington; and Napa, California—though watch out for those earthquakes.

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. Life

    Why Are America’s Three Biggest Metros Shrinking?

    After a post-recession boomlet, the New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago areas are all seeing their population decline.

  2. a map comparing the sizes of several cities
    Maps

    The Commuting Principle That Shaped Urban History

    From ancient Rome to modern Atlanta, the shape of cities has been defined by the technologies that allow commuters to get to work in about 30 minutes.

  3. black children walking by a falling-down building
    Equity

    White Americans’ Hold on Wealth Is Old, Deep, and Nearly Unshakeable

    White families quickly recuperated financial losses after the Civil War, and then created a Jim Crow credit system to bring more white families into money.

  4. A photo of a police officer in El Paso, Texas.
    Equity

    What New Research Says About Race and Police Shootings

    Two new studies have revived the long-running debate over how police respond to white criminal suspects versus African Americans.

  5. a photo of Boston's CultureHouse.
    Life

    From Dead Store to Pop-Up ‘Social Infrastructure’

    A Boston nonprofit called CultureHouse is demonstrating how empty storefronts can be transformed into instant “social infrastructure.”

×