Are You Safe From a Tornado On the Other Side of a River?

Tornadoes might look somewhat fascinating in pictures, but in real life, they are one of the most destructive forces in nature. Like any natural disaster, tornadoes are capable of destroying everything in their path and laying waste to large areas. The speed with which it moves ensures that it does not leave a single structure standing erect in its path – at least not if the tornado is deadly enough.

Tornado an Artists Impression

Tornado: an artist’s impression

This raises a question for many curious minds; what if I cross a river, a canal, or even a wide stream, for that matter, and put that water body between myself and the twister? Will the raging tornado be able to cross that vast and powerful current?


A tornado is a rapidly moving column of air that appears to rotate. It is usually in contact with both the ground and the clouds (cumulonimbus clouds). Tornadoes are also referred to as twisters or cyclones (rarely). Usually, a tornado appears like a tunnel of condensation with its narrow end touching the ground and the broader opening above intermixed with clouds and dust particles.


Credits:Justin Hobson/Shutterstock

Let’s Put a River Between Us

If you’re on a trek in the wilderness and see a tornado building up in the distance and moving in your direction, there may not be many ideas that come to mind at that point in time. For lack of a better idea, you might think, ‘Let’s swim across the river. A tornado only rages when it’s in contact with solid ground’. Following that brilliant plan, you might actually cross the river.

Sooner than you realize, however, the tornado will be on the other bank of the river, and if you’re still on shore waiting to see the picturesque moment, you’re in for a nasty surprise.

No Stopping a Tornado

If you actually thought of doing the above, then I must congratulate you for your creative use of the limited available resources in the wild, but unfortunately, it wouldn’t work.

A tornado can cross anything – a forest, a house, a boat, a human… even a body of water like a river or a lake. It can storm over any obstacle you may try to put between you and it. That’s the worst thing about a tornado; there’s almost nowhere you can hide.

Water spout

A Water spout

Have you heard of the Tri-State Tornado of 1925? It is often touted as the deadliest in US history. The tornado traveled a huge distance – from southeastern Missouri through southern Illinois and into southwestern Indiana. It annihilated a number of towns and claimed 695 lives.

As you learned in the above example, a tornado can easily cross a river. It goes wherever it wants to without almost any resistance. There are also some tornadoes that actually originate on water, or move from land to a body of water. These types of tornadoes are called water-spouts and are just as destructive as their land-based brothers.

What Can I Actually Do to Stay Safe?

As you’ve learned, there is no stopping a tornado. Nevertheless, you can always do your best to protect yourself from it. First of all, it’s always a good idea to evacuate the area if there is a tornado or cyclone warning in your area. If you’re legitimately stuck somewhere, your best bet is to find a basement or a room without windows on the ground floor. Crouch below a table and don’t leave the house until the storm passes over.

Remember, playing smart defense is often the best chance of survival, but running away from a tornado isn’t the wisest choice!


  1. Wikipedia
  2. Tornado Myths – StormAware – Tornado & Severe Weather Safety in Missouri
  3. Live Science
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Ashish is a Science graduate (Bachelor of Science) from Punjabi University (India). He spends a lot of time watching movies, and an awful lot more time discussing them. He likes Harry Potter and the Avengers, and obsesses over how thoroughly Science dictates every aspect of life… in this universe, at least.

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