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What’s Our Tornado Risk In New Jersey?

Check out the latest in our series of disaster preparedness posts, this installment to help you and your family prepare for what to do in the event of a tornado.

Did you know that almost every state in the U.S. is subject to tornadoes, hurricanes, or both?  According to the Rutgers University Climate Lab, the Garden State historically averages two tornadoes per year. These storms are usually weak and travel a few miles.

Historic NJ Tornado Facts

There's only been one tornado-related fatality in New Jersey since 1950. In 1989, New Jersey recorded its most tornadoes in one year with 19. The state also recorded 13 in 2021. There's never been an EF-4 or EF-5 tornado in New Jersey, which are the highest ratings a tornado can get based on the Enhanced Fujita Scale.

However, we seem to have had an unusually active start to the tornado season (generally March through August) with 8 recorded to date – 1 on February 21st and 7 on April 1st. The line of severe thunderstorms that blew through the state on April 1st produced multiple tornadoes, including one that touched down in Ocean County with winds as high as 130 mph.

New Jersey State Climatologist Dave Robinson states that this spate of tornado activity is quite unusual, but prediction of future tornado events is difficult. ‘There were multiple years in the past decade where we’ve none, but then again two years ago we had 13,” said Robinson. “So, in other words there is somewhat randomness to this.’[1]  

So, it is to our benefit to know what to do by preparing for any possibilities. Many of the following recommendations are from the NJ Office of Emergency Management’s section on tornado safety.

Tornado Facts

A tornado is a violent windstorm characterized by a twisting, funnel-shaped cloud. It is spawned by a severe thunderstorm, or sometimes as the result of a hurricane, and produced when cool air overrides a layer of warm air, forcing the warm air to rise rapidly. The damage from a tornado is a result of its high wind velocity and wind-blown debris.

Tornado season is generally March through August, though tornadoes can occur at any time of year. They tend to occur in the afternoons and evenings. Over 80 percent of all tornadoes strike between noon and midnight.

When a tornado threatens, individuals need a safe place to go and time to get there. Those most at risk are individuals in manufactured homes or automobiles.

Even with advances in meteorology, tornado warning times may be short or even impossible. Lives are saved when individuals receive and understand the warning, know what to do, and know the safest place to go.

The Fugita-Pearson Tornado Scale

F-0: 40-72 mph, chimney damage, tree branches broken.
F-1: 73-112 mph, manufactured homes pushed off foundation or overturned.
F-2: 113-157 mph, considerable damage, manufactured homes demolished, trees uprooted.
F-3: 158-206 mph, roofs and walls torn down, trains overturned, cars thrown.
F-4: 207-260 mph, well-constructed walls leveled.
F-5: 261-318 mph, homes lifted off foundation and carried considerable distances, autos thrown as far as 100 meters.

According to The Tornado Project, only about 1 percent of all tornadoes from 1950-1994 were classified as "Violent" (F-4 and F-5). About 25 percent were classified as "Strong" (F-2 and F-3). The great majority, about 74 percent, were "Weak" (F-0 and F-1).

Preparing for a tornado

  • wind zone map webKnow your area’s tornado risk. In the U.S., the Midwest and the Southeast have a greater risk for tornadoes. New Jersey is in Zone II of the US Wind Zone Map, on the lower end the frequency and strength of extreme windstorms across the United States. This map is based on 40 years of tornado history and over 100 years of hurricane history.
  • Learn The Danger Signs. There is no substitute for watching the sky. 
    • Tornadoes sometimes have no visible funnel! An approaching cloud of debris can mark the location of a tornado even if no funnel is visible. 
    • Tornadoes may be accompanied by hail or heavy rain followed by either dead calm or a fast, intense wind shift. Many tornadoes are wrapped in heavy precipitation and can't be seen.
    • There may be a loud, continuous roar or rumble that doesn't fade in a few seconds like thunder.
    • Look for a persistent lowering of the cloud base.
    • At night look for small, bright, blue green to white flashes at ground level near a thunderstorm (as opposed to silvery lightning up in the clouds). These mean power lines are being snapped by a very strong wind, possibly a tornado.
  • Sign up for your community’s warning system. The Emergency Alert System (EAS) and NOAA Weather Radio also provide emergency alerts.
    • Rave Mobile Alerts is the official emergency notification system used by the Township of Ewing to communicate with community residents during emergencies.
  • Pay attention to weather reports.
    • Listen to NOAA Weather Radio.
    • Track the weather with color-coded maps of New Jersey's real-time NWS weather forecasts at NWS Philly/Mount Holly Site.
    • Don’t forget to include a battery-powered radio as part of your Emergency Supply Kit. 
  • Identify and practice going to a safe shelter such as a safe room built using FEMA criteria or a storm shelter built to ICC 500 standards. The next best protection is a small, interior, windowless room, or basement on the lowest level of a sturdy building.
  • Don’t forget to include your pet in your family’s emergency plan.
  • Prepare for long-term stay at home or sheltering in place by gathering emergency supplies, cleaning supplies, non-perishable foods, water, medical supplies, and medication.

What to do during a tornado

If at Home:

  • Go at once to the safe place you have identified in your home - ideally a windowless, interior room, a storm cellar, basement, or the lowest level of the building. Stay away from windows.
  • Go to the center of the room - but be sure not to stay underneath any heavy objects (pianos, refrigerators, waterbeds, etc.) on the floor above! Stay away from corners because they tend to attract debris.
  • Get under a piece of sturdy furniture such as a workbench or heavy table or desk and hold on to it or cover yourself with a mattress or sleeping bag.
  • Use your arms to protect your head and neck.

If in a Manufactured Home:

  • Get out and find shelter elsewhere.
  • Take shelter in a building with a strong foundation. If shelter is not available, lie in a ditch or low-lying area a safe distance away from the unit.

If At Work or School:

  • Go to the basement or to an inside hallway at the lowest level. Avoid places with wide-span roofs such as auditoriums, cafeterias, large hallways, or shopping malls.
  • Get under a piece of sturdy furniture such as a workbench or heavy table or desk and hold onto it. Use your arms to protect your head and neck.

If Outdoors:

  • If possible, get inside a building. If shelter is not available or there is no time to get indoors, lie in a ditch or low-lying area or crouch near a strong building. Be aware of the potential for flooding.

Get as far away from trees and cars as you can. Use your arms to protect your head and neck.

If In a Car:

  • Never try to out drive a tornado in a car or truck! Tornadoes can change direction quickly and can lift up a car or truck and toss it through the air.
  • Get out of the car immediately and take shelter in a nearby building. If there is no time to get indoors, get out of the car and lie in a ditch or low-lying area away from the vehicle. Be aware of the potential for flooding. Do NOT shelter under Highway Overpasses. They may be one of the worst places to seek shelter from a tornado. The overpass can act as a funnel for the high winds that produce airborne debris. This debris is blown into and channeled under the overpass greatly increasing the risk of being killed or seriously injured.

If In a Shopping Mall Or Large Store:

  • Do not panic. Watch for others. Move as quickly as possible to an interior bathroom, storage room or other small, enclosed area, away from windows. Crouch face-down and protect your head with your arms.

If In a Church or Theater:

  • Do not panic. If possible, move quickly but orderly to an interior bathroom or hallway, away from windows. Crouch face-down and protect your head with your arms. If there is no time to do that, get under seats or pews, protecting your head with your arms or hands.

The Tornado Aftermath

After The Storm Passes

  • Help injured or trapped persons. Give first aid when appropriate. Do not try to move the seriously injured unless they are in immediate danger of further injury.
  • Check on neighbors who may require special assistance - infants, elderly people, and people with disabilities. People who care for them or have large families may need additional assistance caring for several people in emergency situations.
  • Continue listening to local radio or TV stations or a NOAA Weather Radio for updated information and instructions. Access may be limited to some parts of the community, or roads may be blocked.
  • Call for help, if needed. Use the telephone only for emergency calls.
  • Stay out of damaged buildings. Return home only when authorities say it is safe.
  • Watch out for fallen power lines and report them immediately. Reporting potential hazards will get the utilities turned off as quickly as possible, preventing further hazard and injury.
  • Do not use matches in a storm ravaged area until all gas lines are checked for leaks. Keep flashlights and plenty of batteries at hand.
  • Clean up spilled medicines, bleaches, or gasoline or other flammable liquids.
  • Take pictures of the damage - both to the house and its contents - for insurance purposes.

Inspect Utilities in A Damaged Home

  • Check for gas leaks. If you smell gas or hear a blowing or hissing noise, open a window, and quickly leave the building. Turn off the gas at the main valve if you can and call the gas company from a neighbor's home. If you turn off the gas for any reason, it must be turned back on by a professional.
  • Look for electrical system damage. If you see sparks or broken or frayed wires, or if you smell hot insulation, turn off the electricity at the main fuse box or circuit breaker. If you have to step in water to get to the fuse box or circuit breaker, call an electrician first for advice!
  • Check for sewage and water line damage. If you suspect sewage lines are damaged, avoid using toilets and call a plumber. If water pipes are damaged, contact the water company and avoid using water from the tap. You can obtain safe water by melting ice cubes.

Additional Resources


[1] Is NJ the new Tornado Alley of the Northeast? | , April 4, 2023.