Are big cities safe from tornadoes? Here’s what we know

(NATIONAL) — A line of severe storms pushed through the Houston metro area early Thursday evening, May 16. The National Weather Service (NWS) confirmed on Friday that an EF-1 tornado moved through Cypress, a suburb of Houston, with the complex of thunderstorms. Peak winds were estimated to be over 100 miles per hour.

Large trees were uprooted and 4 fatalitites were reported from the tornado.

With such a large city taking nearly a direct hit from a tornado, it brings up the age old question: can big cities get hit by tornadoes? The simple answer is yes.

Tornadoes are often perceived as only hitting rural areas with lots of flat land because that’s largely what the United States is: large areas of open land. According to the United States Census, roughly 97% of our land mass is considered to be rural. That means only 3% of the United States is considered urban – which you can then connect to cities.

Here is when Colorado typically sees the most tornadoes.

Therefore, statistically, the odds of a tornado hitting a city are much smaller than a rural area. However, historical data, videos, and documents remind us that it certainly is possible. The most recent example is the now-confirmed tornado that hit Houston this week.

There are several other videos that confirm tornadoes striking big cities in recent history.

Lincoln Nebraska – April 26, 2024.

An outbreak of tornadoes pushed through portions of Eastern Nebraska; including near the city of Lincoln. The city has a population of almost 300,000 people. The outbreak consisted of 24 tornado tracks, at least 5 of which were EF-3 in strength. These long-track tornadoes would continue on into portions of Iowa.

Topeka Kansas – June 8, 1966

Digging back a bit further into history, an F5 tornado struck Topeka Kansas – the capitol of the state. The F5 strength comes from before the damage scale rating was switched to EF, Enhanced Fujita, which measures a tornado’s strength based off of the damage it causes and not the wind speeds.

This tornado killed 17 people and was on the ground for almost half an hour. It tore through the heart of downtown Topeka, significantly damaging all of the buildings at Washburn University. It also heavily damaged the capitol building. Today, Topeka has a population of over 125,000 people.

Denver Colorado – June 22, 2023

A bit closer to home, an EF-1 tornado was confirmed by the National Weather Service back in 2023 for Highlands Ranch, Colorado. It had estimated peak winds of 105 mph and was on the ground for almost half an hour. No injuries or deaths were reported with this rain-wrapped tornado. Highlands Ranch has a population of over 100,000 people while the Denver Metro has a population of over 700,000.

Colorado recently had one of its only EF-3 tornadoes in history; here is the video of it.

Miami Florida – August 19, 2020

Tornadoes can also occur over water, and when they do, they’re considered waterspouts. Waterspouts can be just as dangerous as tornadoes, especially if they move onshore. Cities along coastal areas are no strangers to these twisters. Big cities along the coast frequently see waterspouts over open waters but they can still come onshore and pose a big risk to cities. Miami currently has a population of almost 500,000 people.

National Weather Service Pueblo confirms EF1 tornado on Pikes Peak

Any area, rural or urban, can be hit by a tornado. It is a myth that big cities do not get hit by them. Another common myth is that rivers and hills protect populations from tornadoes. This is also not true – tornadoes frequently pass over rivers and have even been spotted on mountains.

Copyright 2024 Nexstar Media, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

For the latest news, weather, sports, and streaming video, head to FOX21 News Colorado.