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Subject : L13) How does the damage from hurricanes compare to tornadoes?

Contributed by Chris Landsea (NHC)

Even though winds from the strongest tornadoes far exceed that from the strongest hurricanes, hurricanes typically cause much more damage individually and over a season. (The strongest tornadoes - those of Fujita Tornado Damage Scale 4 and 5 - have estimated winds of 207 mph [333 kph] and higher, while the strongest hurricanes - those of Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale 4 and 5 - have winds of 131 mph [210 kph] and higher.) Hurricanes in the continental U.S. cause on average about $3 billion per landfall and about $5 billion annually (Pielke and Landsea 1998). The roughly 1000 tornadoes that impact the continental U.S.each year cause about ten times less - about $500 million in total ( Brooks and Doswell 2001). The top 30 most damaging hurricanes in the last 100 years (normalized to account for higher population, wealth and inflation) have each caused over $2.9 billion (Jarrell et al. 2001). In comparison, only the most damaging tornado in the last 100 years or so - if it hit today - would cause about $2.9 billion in damage: the May 1896 St. Louis tornado (Brooks and Doswell 2001).

Hurricanes tend to cause much more destruction than tornadoes because of their size, duration and variety of ways to damage items. The destructive circular eyewall in hurricanes (that surrounds the calm eye) can be tens of miles across, last hours and damage structures through storm surge, rainfall-caused flooding, as well as wind impacts. Tornadoes, in contrast, tend to be a mile or smaller in diameter, last for minutes and primarily cause damage from their extreme winds.


Brooks, H. E., and C. A. Doswell, III, 2001: Normalized damage from major tornadoes in the United States: 1890-1999. Wea. Forecasting , 16, 168-176.

Jarrell,J.D., M. Mayfield, E.N. Rappaport, and C.W. Landsea, 2001: "The Deadliest, Costliest, and Most Intense United States Hurricanes from 1900 to 2000 (and other Frequently Requested Hurricane Facts)" NOAA Technical Memorandum NWS/TPC-1.

Last updated August 13, 2004

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