Skyscraper Storms: 7 Big City Tornadoes



Storm damage from the night of Sept. 16, 2010 in Forest Hills, Queens. A woman was killed nearby when a tree fell on her car. (Image credit: Ker Than, TechMediaNetwork)

New York City isn't immune to terrible twisters. A wicked storm tore through town yesterday (Sept. 16) and a National Weather Service investigation is underway to determine if the storm was in fact a tornado. But for residents of Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island where the storm packed the most punch the storm certainly looked, and felt, the part. Just ask anyone unlucky enough to have parked their car near a tree.

Despite the popular myth, tornadoes can and will rip through big cities. Following are seven U.S. cities that have been ravaged by twisters.

New York, N.Y.


An EF1 tornado touched down in the North Riverdale section of the Bronx in July 2010. (Image credit:

Brooklyn has suffered the wrath of tornadoes before. On Aug. 8, 2007, the National Weather Service confirmed that a tornado touched down in the Bay Ridge neighborhood of Brooklyn. The storm was an EF2 on the Enhanced Fujita scale, which is used to measure a tornado's strength, with winds of up to 135 mph (217 kph).

Tornadoes have hit New York City in the past, with an F0 touching down in Staten Island on Oct. 27, 2003 and an EF2 striking the Bronx in 2010.

Atlanta, Ga.


Damage to the CNN Center in downtown Atlanta. (Image credit: NOAA.)

At the Georgia Dome in downtown Atlanta on March 14, 2008, Mykal Riley of Alabama sank a last minute basket sending an NCAA basketball game against Mississippi State into overtime. Had he missed the shot, the game would have ended, sending thousands of fans into the streets at the exact moment an EF2 tornado touched down just north of the Dome. With winds up to 135 mph (217 kph), the twister carved a 6-mile (10-kilometer) path through the city's streets, leaving one person dead and 30 people injured. Several of the city's skyscrapers bore scars from the storm for years.

Chicago, Ill.


In 1967, an outbreak of tornadoes ravished the Chicago suburb of Oak Lawn. (Image credit: NOAA.)

Throughout history, many tornadoes have ravaged the Chicago metro area, and several have struck within the city limits. The most recent significant tornado was an EF3 that hit on Jan. 7, 2008. An F5 tornado struck the Chicago area on Aug. 28, 1990. The tornado killed 29, injured 350 and caused $165 million in damage along a 16-mile (26-km) path.

Miami, Fla.


A tornado swept through downtown Miami. (Image credit: NOAA.)

Hurricanes typically grab the headlines in South Florida, but on May 12, 1997, an ominous tornado was the only thing on peoples' minds. The F1 tornado touched down and passed through downtown Miami, but spared the city's skyscrapers. The storm sideswiped a cruise ship in Key Biscayne and, in a final act of rage, flipped a car on Miami Beach, before fizzling out soon after.

Hurricanes are still the biggest threat to South Florida, but Miami's tornadoes, while typically weak, have formed in every month of the year. Usually the twisters pop up as waterspouts off Biscayne Bay or as a part of the common afternoon thunderstorms.

Dallas, Texas


A tornado approaches downtown Dallas, Texas, in 1957. (Image credit: NOAA.)

A two-day outbreak of severe storms spawned over 50 tornadoes across the southern United States from April 2 through April 4, 1957. Tornadoes touched down throughout the Dallas area, including an F3 that killed 10 people and injured 200 others. At the time, the tornado was believed to be the most documented of all time. The storm began as the work day was coming to an end and thousands of photographs and hours of film chronicled the storm.

All told, the outbreak killed 19 people across three states and stretched from Texas to Tennessee. More recently, another F3 struck downtown Fort Worth and Arlington on March 28, 2000, killing three people and injuring dozens.

St. Louis, Mo.


At Church and 11th and Soulard Streets in St. Louis, an historic tornado sacked a church. (Image credit: NOAA.)

Tornadoes can occur almost anywhere in the world, but the United States is the country with the highest frequency of tornadoes. Each year there are about 1,200 tornadoes in the United States, causing about 65 fatalities and 1,500 injuries nationwide. One particularly deadly storm was dubbed 'The Great Cyclone.' This 1896 tornado struck on May 27 as a part of a major tornado outbreak. The storm was rated as an F4 and killed roughly 250 people.

Oklahoma City


Tornadoes rough up Oklahoma City, a lot. (Image credit: NOAA.)

By virtue of its land area and location smack dab in the heart of Tornado Alley Oklahoma City has been hit by more tornadoes than any other city. The worst of these was an F5 that struck on May 3, 1999, causing 36 deaths and a billion dollars worth of damage. Twisters strike predominantly along Tornado Alley a flat stretch of land from west Texas to North Dakota. The region is ideal for tornadoes, as dry polar air from Canada meets warm moist tropical air from the Gulf of Mexico.

Brett Israel was a staff writer for Live Science with a focus on environmental issues. He holds a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry and molecular biology from The University of Georgia, a master’s degree in journalism from New York University, and has studied doctorate-level biochemistry at Emory University.