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How big is a tornado?

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Quick Answer

A tornado path, or the width of the tornado on the ground, can range from as small as 10 yards to in excess of a mile. Widths can vary greatly even over the life of a single tornado, as each individual twister often undergoes rapid changes.

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Full Answer

The National Weather Service Weather Forecast Office reports that the path of a tornado can last from just a few yards to over 100 miles depending on numerous simultaneous weather factors. The average tornado has a damage path of 1 or 2 miles and a width of around 50 yards. It is important to remember that the size of a tornado is not necessarily an indication of its strength, as large tornadoes can be relatively weak, and smaller ones could be violent.

Tornadoes come in three basics types, including weak, strong and violent. A majority of tornadoes, 69 percent, are weak twisters with wind speeds less than 100 mph and little damage. Strong tornadoes, or 29 percent of the overall total, have speeds between 110 and 205 mph, remain on the ground for 20 minutes and knock over mobile homes. Violent tornadoes are the least common and deadliest.

As of August 2014, the widest tornado ever measured hit El Reno, Okla., on May 31, 2013. The width of the EF5 tornado reached a maximum of 2.6 miles, with a damage path 16.2 miles long. The highest wind gust recorded with the El Reno twister was 296 mph. The tornado struck just west of Oklahoma City and killed 18 people.

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