What Are the Long-Term Effects of Tornadoes?

Tornadoes pose a significant threat to populated areas and farmland.
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Tornadoes can hit with little or no warning leaving behind many long-term impacts. The damage path can span several states in length and result in billions of dollars in damages. A tornado is a violently rotating column of air attached to the base of a thunderstorm. Wind speeds in a tornado can reach 300 miles per hour with the potential to destroy an entire city in a matter of minutes. Unfortunately, when a tornado hits a populated area or farmland, it often has many negative long-term effects that can even impact the entire country.

Economic Loss

Between the months of April and May of 2011, killer tornadoes in the United States caused an estimated $23 billion in damage. A tornado can destroy an entire house in just a few seconds leaving a family homeless and financially stressed, sometimes for life. The death of a family member and loss of personal items, such as family photos, are permanent and priceless losses. Other long-term economic effects include insurance premiums that increase after disaster payouts, which can cause further stress to a family that has just lost a home. Severe tornado damage to infrastructure, such as the total destruction of city blocks and business centers, often takes years of construction to replace.

Vegetation Damage

On May 25, 2011, CBS Sacramento reported that a series of weak tornadoes touched down across Butte County and Glenn County, California uprooting nearly 25,000 almond trees. During an interview with an almond farmer, it was determined that it would take five to six years for replanted trees to become profitable. June 8, 1953, a single tornado touched down in Birmingham, Ohio causing an estimated $4.3 billion in crop damages. Tornado-spawning thunderstorms frequently produce large hail from their powerful updrafts which can also cause severe crop damage in addition to the destructive force of a tornado.

Environmental Contamination

On May 22, 2011 a strong tornado hit Joplin, Missouri destroying buildings, rupturing pipelines and breaking chemical containers which contaminated groundwater with raw sewage, oil, asbestos, dioxides and other pollutants. Other wastes, such as household chemicals, and industrial and medical wastes, can be widely disbursed, contaminating the environment. Severe thunderstorms often produce flooding rains and when combined with tornadoes can represent long-term environmental hazards such as increased risk of disease transmission through contaminated soils and water.

Ecosystem Impacts

Tornadoes can uproot trees causing sunlight to penetrate in areas that were once covered resulting in new habitats for animals. High winds can spread seeds far away, creating new growth. Not all impacts are positive, as tornadoes can destroy entire habitats, killing and displacing large numbers of animals. In 2011, portions of Brooklyn and Queens in New York were still replanting trees over a year later after tornadoes damaged most of their local shade trees. A strong tornado can also damage healthy soil by removing the topsoil -- the portion of soil that nourishes crops and other plants.

Psychological Effects

According to the American Psychological Association, tornadoes can cause long-term mental health issues. It’s common for people that survive natural disasters to have very strong emotional responses that can be either normal or abnormal. Disasters can cause traumatic flashbacks where the individual relives the event, severe anxiety, withdrawal, depression and increased fears of loss and death, which can interfere with daily life if a person doesn’t have the normal ability to cope with trauma. Children are especially vulnerable to post-disaster traumatic stress.