There were 21 named storms during the 2021 Atlantic hurricane season. Seven had sustained wind speeds high enough to be classified as hurricanes. That same year, 1,376 tornadoes hit the United States. While a single hurricane that makes landfall may cause more damage than a tornado, which causes more devastation if we take all storms into account? Which are more deadly? We’ll attempt to answer those questions here and now.
Quick Facts: Hurricanes vs. Tornadoes
Merriam-Webster defines a hurricane as “A tropical cyclone with winds of 74 miles (119 kilometers) per hour or greater that is usually accompanied by rain, thunder, and lightning, and that sometimes moves into temperate latitudes.” Hurricanes form over the ocean and may last for one or more days, a week, or even a month, as in the case of Hurricane John in 1994. When they make landfall they can cause extreme devastation, but encountering obstacles on land is also what typically causes them to get progressively weaker and eventually die out.
The National Weather Service defines a tornado as “A violently rotating column of air touching the ground, usually attached to the base of a thunderstorm.” Unlike hurricanes, tornadoes form over land. They form when warm, humid air rises inside a thunderstorm while cool air falls down with rain or hail. This can create a horizontal spinning current inside the cloud. When that current turns vertical and drops down to the ground, a tornado has formed. Tornadoes are usually short-lived; most last less than 10 minutes, although they may last anywhere from a few seconds to more than an hour.
Tornadoes have higher wind speeds on average than hurricanes. The strongest tornadoes may have winds of more than 207 miles per hour, while the strongest hurricanes have winds of 131 miles per hour or higher.
Hurricanes are much larger than tornadoes. The average size of a hurricane is about 300 miles wide, but each will vary considerably depending on the storm. The eye of a hurricane alone may be 20 to 40 miles wide. The average tornado, on the other hand, is about 500 feet across and may make landfall for about 5 miles before dying out. The typical path of damage for a tornado, according to the National Weather Service, is about 1-2 miles long and 50 yards wide.
Hurricane season lasts from June 1 to November 30, with the strongest storms hitting between August and October. Tornadoes may strike year-round, but the worst tornadoes typically occur in the late winter and early spring.
Tornadoes may form in virtually any state, but they are most common in the Great Plains area of the central U.S., where the conditions are ideal for severe thunderstorms.
The following are the 10 states that see the most tornadoes:
Hurricanes are more likely to strike coastal regions. Texas, Florida, and Louisiana are the three U.S. states that have seen the most hurricanes.
The top 10 states affected by hurricanes are, in order of most to least affected:
- North Carolina
- South Carolina
- New York
2021 Hurricane & Tornado Statistics
To get a better idea of the severity of hurricanes versus tornadoes, we can look at statistics from 2021, specifically related to the economic impact and loss of lives caused by these storms.
In 2021, hurricanes caused:
- 161 fatalities
- Approximately $70.5 billion in damage
In 2021, tornadoes caused:
- 149 fatalities
- Approximately $27 billion in damage
Hurricanes Are More Destructive Than Tornadoes
Six of seven named hurricanes made landfall during the 2021 Atlantic hurricane season. The worst was Hurricane Ida, which made landfall in Cuba on August 27 and again near Port Fourchon, Louisiana on August 29. The storm caused at least 115 deaths, 95 in the United States and 20 in Venezuela, as well as an estimated $65.25 billion in damage. Those six hurricanes claimed more lives and caused more damage worldwide than the more than 2,000 tornadoes that struck across the planet in 2021 (more than 1,300 of which occurred in the U.S.)
Statistically, hurricanes are more destructive than tornadoes. A single tornado may have stronger, faster winds than a hurricane, but a hurricane’s larger size and longer life give it the potential to be more disastrous.
Rebuilding After a Natural Disaster
When Mother Nature strikes, whether through a hurricane or a tornado, there is little we can do. More accurate storm prediction can help us evacuate before a hurricane can make landfall or a tornado can touch down, but there are also times when we must take shelter and wait it out. In either scenario, the storm may leave millions or billions of dollars in property damage in its wake. It may still claim dozens of lives. We must then do our best to rebuild and move on.
As Texas natives, we at Arnold & Itkin are no strangers to hurricanes and tornadoes. We understand how difficult it can be to rebuild when insurance companies delay payment, deny valid claims, or try to avoid responsibility altogether. Our hurricane insurance lawyers are committed to doing what is right: holding the biggest companies responsible for upholding their end of the bargain and paying fair, timely recoveries after hurricanes and tornadoes cause significant damage. To learn more, give us a call at (888) 493-1629.