What Does a Tornado Sound Like?

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Tornado survivors and witnesses often liken the sound of a tornado to that of a freight train—that is, the noise and vibrations of its wheels against the railroad track and ground. One way to distinguish this sound from ordinary thunderstorm sounds is to notice a loud continuous roar or rumble, that, unlike thunder, doesn't fade in a few seconds' time. 

Tornado Sounds Include Rumbles, Roars, and Whirs 

While the most common tornado sound is a continuous rumble or roar, a tornado can also make other sounds.

What sound you hear depends on a number of things, including the tornado's size, strength, what it is hitting, and how close it is to you.

In addition to a constant rumble or low roar, tornadoes can also sound like:

  • A waterfall or whooshing of air
  • A nearby jet engine
  • A deafening roar (When a tornado is tearing through a big city or a heavily populated area, it can produce lots of loud noises simultaneously, making it impossible to hear a particular sound because the sound is so deafeningly loud.)

Why Tornadoes Are So Loud

No matter what sound is heard, most survivors agree on one thing: the loudness. But, why are tornadoes so noisy? For one, a tornado vortex is made up of air that's rotating very rapidly. Think of how loud wind sounds when driving down the highway with your car window down, except multiply that by several hundred times. What's more, after the tornado reaches the ground, its winds blow through trees, tear apart buildings, and blow debris about—all which adds to the noise level.

Listen for These Sounds, Too

There are other audible sounds to listen for besides a roar that could signal the approach of a tornado. If a severe thunderstorm is occurring, be sure to pay attention to the sound of hail or torrential rain that suddenly gives way to a dead calm, or is followed by an intense shift in wind.

Because tornadoes typically occur in the precipitation-free part of a thunderstorm, these sudden changes in precipitation could mean the parent thunderstorm is moving.

Tornado Sirens

While knowing what a tornado sounds like may help keep you safe should one hit, you shouldn't rely on the storm's sound as your only tornado warning method. Quite often, these sounds can only be heard when the tornado is very near, leaving you little time to take cover. However, another sound to take notice of is that of tornado sirens. 

Originally designed to warn of air raids during World War II, these sirens have been re-purposed and are now used as tornado warning instruments across the Great Plains, Midwest, and South. Along the East Coast, similar sirens are used to warn of approaching hurricanes and in the Pacific Northwest to warn residents of volcanic eruptions, mudslides, and tsunamis.

What does a tornado siren sound like? Listen here (YouTube). If you live in or are visiting an area prone to tornadoes, be sure you know what this signal sounds like and what to do when it sounds off. You should also register for emergency notifications for your area to be sent to your cell phone and/or home phone.

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Oblack, Rachelle. "What Does a Tornado Sound Like?" ThoughtCo, Nov. 29, 2017, thoughtco.com/what-does-tornado-sound-like-3970162. Oblack, Rachelle. (2017, November 29). What Does a Tornado Sound Like? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/what-does-tornado-sound-like-3970162 Oblack, Rachelle. "What Does a Tornado Sound Like?" ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/what-does-tornado-sound-like-3970162 (accessed January 17, 2018).