Pick your poison: Hurricane vs. Tornado

Oct 10, 2004
Madison, WI
A statistical and anecdotal comparison of Hurricane Katrina with the recent F3 tornado near Stoughton, Wisconsin.

Tornado chasing: Make your forecast, and if it's right, catch the tornado, get your shots, go home and celebrate.

Hurricane chasing: Place yourself in the path of an imminent natural disaster, and unless you've prepared and planned just right, wind up in the middle of a devastated area without power and clean water for days on end.

Monetary damages: Stoughton tornado: $44 million (preliminary)
Hurricane Katrina: $25 billion (estimated)

Death toll: Stoughton tornado: 1 Hurricane Katrina: Hundreds


Tornado: Power & water out for about 20 hours. 5 days of cleaning up debris in the yard and cutting down damaged trees. Rebuilding of destroyed properties is already underway in several neighborhoods around here.

Hurricane: Power & water probably out for at least a week, likely more, to come. Rebuilding cannot begin until floodwaters recede. Many structures that are still standing will probably have to be torn down and rebuilt anyway because of water damage. Surivors will have to contend with the threats of looting, waterborne disease, and dangerous animals on the loose.

Not much question as to which is worse.
You'd also have to look at it this way... Since hurricanes cover a much larger portion of land than a tornado, it will cause more widespread damage.

Katrina hit vastly populated cities. Now, just think of a strong or violent tornado ripping through a city like Detroit. That would cost in the BILLIONS and would no doubt kill dozens of people (if a tornado were to rip through Metro Detroit, I wouldn't be surprised if we see a new +100 fatality record). Now, if the WI supercell that produced the Stoughton tornado were to have dropped that tornado right in the heart of Madison, what would have happen?
hurricane vs. tornado

I don't get Andy's point. Is this a contest? Are we supposed to take sides.? I chase tornadoes because I am awed by their beauty and power. There is no comparison with a hurricane. I've ridden out a typhoon (in the Sea of Japan) and believe me, there's no beauty involved. Typhoons and hurricanes are just big winds ripping apart huge sections of our planet. They ain't pretty (except for those awesome satellite views). My most vivid memory of the typhoon is extreme fatigue for hanging on to something for 12 straight hours/

I don't get it either, I thought maybe this thread was going to be whether we would rather chase tornadoes or hurricanes... but after reading this I'm not so sure that's what was being asked/said here....
No...it's not really a contest. I was just commenting on the fact that I thought the 20-hour power/water outage and the debris cleanup following the tornado was bad...only to see a disaster unfold on such a scale that I can't even comprehend how the survivors are going to carry on.

With the tornado (at least on the fringes of it as we were) the cleanup process was fairly straightforward. First clear the streets of downed trees and limbs, then rake the lawn of all the little leaves and twigs it's covered with, then cut down all the trees/limbs that are damaged and pose a potential falling hazard, cut them up into firewood, and cart away the brush.

Where do you begin if you're a victim of Hurricane Katrina? You can't even get back into your home, which probably doesn't contain much that hasn't already been waterlogged (or stolen by looters, if it was undamaged).

Not only is a hurricane bigger, but it has more weapons.

You don't see a storm surge with a tornado, and water is much more powerful than wind.

In Katrina, most of the damage did not occur with winds (as the storm was weakening), but with the 30 ft storm surge.
Not only is a hurricane larger, with more real estate covered....it may also have a tornado or three embedded in it.
Doesn't work the other way around (thank goodness!). :)
No doubt Katrina will make a few people who regularly chase 'canes think a bit more about strategy and precautions.

I personally prefer to armchase Hurricanes; as somebody else suggested there's a definite lack of visual phenomena on a local scale until the damage itself is occuring; however the data-rich sources such as sensors, radar and satellite make for some good distant observation.

Tornado's are different for me; I'd much rather be out there (unless I can't.. than the same armchair works out well enough.. :)

I'm also not sure we can compare the two with the scenarios created; other storms have provided for different opportunities. No matter what, there's going to be risks.
It is an interesting question because people who live in the plains say, "boy I am glad I live here so I don't have to deal with tornadoes." Folks on the coast might say, "I'm glad I don't live in tornado alley!"

I'd definitely say I'd rather live in a town with a 1 in 40 chance each year of being hit by a major tornado, than a coastal city with an even 1 in 50 or more chance of being hit by a cat 3 or higher.

More time to escape and generally better building codes.