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. Equity

    Why Are So Many People In San Jose Fighting Housing for Teachers?

    The school system’s plan to build affordable apartment units for the city’s teachers has triggered a fierce backlash in one affluent area.

  2. Aerial view of narrow strips of land divided by water, some with houses on them.
    Environment

    The Dutch Can’t Save Us From Rising Seas

    Dutch engineers are renowned for their ability to keep cities dry. But their approach doesn’t necessarily translate to an American context.

  3. Slogan projected on the Eiffel Tower for World Climate Change Conference
    Environment

    What Local Climate Actions Would Have the Greatest Impact

    In light of even more dire news about our warming planet, leading thinkers tell us the one thing cities and states could do to cut emissions significantly—and fast.

  4. Equity

    Netflix’s ‘Stay Here’ Is a Baffling Show About Renovating Airbnbs

    Binge-watch it if you’re not sure what to do with your extra house.

  5. Transportation

    Why Public Transportation Works Better Outside the U.S.

    The widespread failure of American mass transit is usually blamed on cheap gas and suburban sprawl. But the full story of why other countries succeed is more complicated.