Tornadoes stand alone as the most destructive form of severe weather on the planet. They are a violent funnel of rapidly rotating air extending from a thunderstorm to the ground. The winds within a tornado regularly reach in excess of 100 mph (and in the strongest well above 200mph), a feat rarely replicated even in the worst severe thunderstorms.
Luckily, your chances of getting caught in a tornado are pretty low (except if you’re a storm chaser). Tornadoes are typically small, often less than a few hundred yards across, and it takes a particular set of conditions to trigger their development. This said, there are certain countries and especially certain regions within these countries where conditions are favorable more often for tornado development.
Your best bet if you’re looking to see a twister comes in the United States and Canada, which collectively account for three-quarters of the world’s tornadoes! But there are a few other “hot spots” around the world that deserve mention, including a few that actually might surprise you. So, where are tornadoes most common? Keep reading.
1. United States
At well north of 1,200 tornadoes annually most years, the US by far has the most tornadoes in the world. While tornadoes develop almost anytime and anywhere year-round, they most commonly occur in the Midwest and Southeast, especially in the late Spring and early Summer. However, the strongest tornadoes are most likely to occur in the Southern Plains. The deadliest tornado in US history was the Tri-State Tornado of March 18, 1925, which killed 695 people in Missouri (11), Illinois (613), and Indiana (71).
While Canada is larger than the United States in terms of land area, it only has a tenth of the number of tornadoes that the US has. Even with such a wide disparity, this is good enough for second overall. Most of its tornadoes happen in three of its provinces—Saskatchewan, Alberta, and Ontario but the strongest tornado in the country’s history, an F5, occurred in Elie, Manitoba on June 22nd, 2007.
The third country on our list might surprise you, but England actually has more tornadoes per square mile than any other country in the world. An average of 34 tornadoes strike the country per year, which works out at 2.2 per 10,000km sq. You’ll typically find most of England’s twisters in the Thames Valley, close to the cities of Reading and London.
4. New Zealand
New Zealand is another small country with a large number of tornadoes given its size with an average of about 20 per year. However, a majority of its twisters occur on the country’s North Island. In fact, Auckland—a major city in the north of New Zealand’s North Island—has been hit by deadly tornadoes, including one in Albany in 2011 that killed one person and injured 16 others and in Hobsonville in 2012 which killed three people.
Yet another island nation with a significant number of tornadoes given its size is Japan. As with New Zealand, the country averages about 20 tornadoes annually. But what is different about Japan from the other places is it’s fairly new to the list. Whether by natural cycle or changes in the Earth’s climate, the number of tornadoes—known as tatsumaki here—are increasing in number.
While many think of just the Outback when Australia comes to mind, portions of its coasts are actually quite temperate, and stormy too. Many of the country’s 16 or so tornadoes that occur every year happen in the southwestern portion of the country, and a few of its tornadoes begin as waterspouts, which are common.
India’s monsoon season can sometimes produce tornadic activity, especially in the eastern part of the country. Its strongest tornado occurred in April 1963 in Assam, killing more than 100. While the Assam tornado was quite devastating, many of the stronger tornadoes occur in Bangladesh, the country to the east.
Bangladesh’s generally flat topography and climate make it ripe for tornadic activity. Making matters worse, the commonly poor construction of homes in a significant portion of the country make tornadoes all the more dangerous. In 1964, a tornado in the Khulna Division killed 500, and on April 26, 1989, the Daulatpur–Saturia, Bangladesh tornado which occurred in the Manikganj District, killed more than 1,300 and injured 12,000, making it the single deadliest tornado in the world.
9. South Africa
Much of the African continent does not see tornadic activity, but portions of South Africa are no stranger to their wrath. In fact, former leader Nelson Mandela nearly lost his life in a tornado on the Eastern Cape in December 1998, where he reportedly was protected by his bodyguards who piled on top of him as he took cover on the floor of a local pharmacy.
South America’s tornado hotspot is Argentina. While only about seven or so tornadoes hit the country every year, the tornadoes that do happen can be quite strong. Its strongest tornado (and the strongest in the Southern Hemisphere) to date is an F5 that moved through the small town of San Justo on 10 January 1973. At 300 yards wide, it damaged nearly 500 homes and killed 63, injuring 350 others.