TAMPA, Fla. - When you think of tornado country, the Midwest probably leaps to mind. But a new analysis shows Florida residents are at the highest risk of getting killed by a twister in the United States with a death-rate five times higher than Kansas.
The devastating tornados that killed 42 people in Central Florida in 1998 were believed to be F-3 or F-4 category twisters with winds in excess of 160 miles per hour. But they were far from typical.
"We have a lot of tornadoes, but luckily for us most of ours are weak, short lived and don't cause a lot of damage" said Daniel Noah of the National Weather Service in Ruskin.
But what our tornadoes lack in strength they make up for in numbers. Florida averages 52 tornadoes per year. And though those storms are weaker than the monster tornadoes that stalk the Midwest, a new study by the Southeast Regional Climate Center at the University of North Carolina shows more people are killed in Florida per mile of tornado track than in any other state.
One reason? Florida has a concentration of RVs, mobile homes and low income housing that make poor shelter against even F-0 tornadoes.
"I've seen damage where all that's left is the frame. The rest of the home has been blown away," Noah said.
And with a 12-minute average warning time, the weather service says those residents need to be extra alert, especially during January through April, when our tornadoes tend to be the strongest.
"If you're in a tornado watch and you see storms out to your west coming toward you, that's the time to act. Don't wait for the tornado warning," Noah said.
The stronger, dry-season tornadoes in Florida are also more likely to strike at night, leaving people more vulnerable.
That's why the weather service recommends weather apps like our ABC Action News Storm Shield in addition to a dedicated weather radio with an alert loud enough to wake you up.