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Good Question: What Are Worse, Tornadoes Or Hurricanes?

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(credit: CBS) Jason DeRusha
Jason DeRusha filed his first report for WCCO-TV on April Fool's D...
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MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – Minnesotans know a bit about tornadoes. We average 27 a year, but in 2011 we had 113. As Hurricane Isaac bears down on New Orleans, we wondered. Which is worse: a hurricane or a tornado?

Hurricane Isaac is a monster, heading right for the Gulf Coast.

“It comes with facets, rainfall, storm surge, wind,” said Chris Shaffer, WCCO-TV’s chief meteorologist.

You have to look at different aspects of the storms to figure out which is more severe, Shaffer said. The aspects are listed below.

• Wind speed

“Tornado top wind speeds top 200 mph,” Shaffer said. On the other hand, hurricanes are “75 – 90 mph, usually.”

The tornadoes, he said, are much more destructive in their immediate small area.

• Frequency

Tornadoes happen far more often, too. We average 1,300 in the U.S. Compare that to about five hurricanes that make landfall each year.

• Size

Hurricanes have the advantage here. They are enormous. Isaac is 200 miles wide. Tornadoes are usually measured in hundreds of meters.

“They’re almost a map drop compared to the damage of hurricanes,” Shaffer said.

• Death Toll

One hurricane has the potential to be more deadly. Hurricane Katrina was blamed for 1,016 deaths, according to the National Weather Service.

But on average, tornadoes cause more death, an average of 56 per year. Hurricanes kill an average of 47 per year. Katrina skews that, however. When you remove Katrina hurricanes average 13 deaths per year.

• Damage

The last time researchers from NOAA looked into this question was 1998. They estimated that one hurricane hitting land causes at least $3 billion in damage, while the average of the damage from all tornadoes in a year is $500 million.

“Pure strength – the tornado wins,” Shaffer said. “Causing the most damage? Hurricane by far.”

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