What Is A Wedge Tornado And How Is It Unique?

There are many different types of tornadoes, but in this article, I’ll be taking a closer look at wedge tornadoes. Compared to the standard tornado, wedge tornadoes have a distinct appearance that helps them stand out from the other types of tornadoes.

What Is A Wedge Tornado And How Is It Unique?

Let’s begin with an example of what a wedge tornado is, and how to define it.

What Is A Wedge Tornado?

Wedge tornadoes aren’t officially named by meteorologists, so they aren’t an official term. But it is a name for a specific type of tornado created by storm chasers around the country. But how did they get their name?

The name comes from the wedge tornado’s appearance, and they are a destructive force to contend with. While many other tornadoes are measured by their height, the wedge tornado is identified by its width.

What Are The Types Of Tornadoes?

Before we go into further detail about the classification of wedge tornadoes, I’ll cover a bit more detail about the other types of tornadoes.

As I mentioned, wedge tornadoes are named by storm chasers, but there are other tornadoes that have been named by meteorologists.

While you might have a certain image of tornadoes, there are many different types. So it can be tricky to understand the different variations when you see them.

  • Cone Tornadoes — Cone tornadoes are a classic that you would normally think of when you imagine a tornado. They are named for their cone-like shape and are a little wider than rope tornadoes.
  • Cylinder/Stovepipe Tornadoes — Named for their cylindrical shape, these tornadoes have a tube-like appearance. They form at the base of the thunderstorm in the clouds, and the width is consistent towards the highest and lowest points of the tornado.
  • Non-Supercell Tornadoes — These twisters originate thanks to the air pressure differences in dry air around an organized storm, and are one of the weaker twisters on this list.
  • Rope Tornadoes — Like cone tornadoes, the rope tornado is a common form of twister and can either dissipate quickly or grow into other types of tornadoes. They resemble a rope, which is how they were named.
  • Satellite Tornadoes — If you see a satellite tornado, they often spawn by a main tornado and then orbit it like a satellite orbits the earth. Usually, they will dissipate, or they will merge with the main tornado.
  • Wedge Tornadoes — The subject of our article, wedge tornadoes are both broad and tall. They’re not officially classed by meteorologists but received their name from storm chasers.

How Do You Identify A Wedge Tornado?

Compared to other tornadoes, wedge tornadoes are quite easy to identify due to their width. Their sheer size can envelop over a mile of land, and they’re typically wider than they are tall. They stand out due to the dark clouds that block out the sky above them.

However, due to their width, I recommend that you don’t go outside when a wedge cloud is approaching. As they cause a wide range of damage to surrounding properties.

Most other tornadoes have a more tube-like or cylindrical appearance, but wedge tornadoes have a distinct appearance that makes them stand out. However, they can be difficult to identify as sometimes they appear like low-hanging clouds.

As it’s not a specific term, a massive tornado isn’t automatically classified as a wedge tornado, so I wouldn’t describe all wide tornadoes as wedge tornadoes.

What Class Is A Wedge Tornado?

I’ve already stated how wedge tornadoes can cause a considerable amount of damage. However, you might be wondering what scale they would fall under on the Enhanced Fujita wind speed scale (EF Scale).

The EF scale was put into place in February 2007, and the ratings that are given are based on the wind speeds and the damage that can be done. Here is a rough idea of how tornadoes are measured on the Enhanced Fujita scale:

  • EFU — Unknown speeds. There is no surveyable damage.
  • EF0 — Wind speeds between 65 – 85 MPH. There is light damage to surrounding areas.
  • EF1 — Wind speeds between 86 – 110 MPH. There is moderate damage to surrounding areas.
  • EF2 — Wind speeds between 111 – 135 MPH. There is considerable damage to surrounding areas.
  • EF3 — Wind speeds between 136 – 165 MPH. There is severe damage to surrounding areas.
  • EF4 — Wind speeds between 166 – 200 MPH. There is devastating damage to surrounding areas.
  • EF5 — Wind speeds of over 200 MPH. There is incredible damage to surrounding areas.

As you can see, the higher the number on the EF scale, the more damage that is done to property and surrounding areas. This also means that there is more risk to human life.

Wedge tornadoes are often ranked as EF3 on the Enhanced Fujita scale, meaning that they can cause severe damage to surrounding areas.

However, there have also been reports of lower-scale and higher-scale wedge tornadoes. As they don’t have a definite meteorological term to describe them.

Damage From Wedge Tornadoes

Damage From Wedge Tornadoes

Naturally, tornadoes can cause a significant amount of damage to trees, buildings, and power lines.

Storm chasing is dangerous, and tornadoes can cause a significant amount of danger to human life, as they can pull up various objects and hurl them through the air. This is why you must always seek shelter when a tornado is approaching.

There have been scenarios where wedge tornadoes have caused a significant amount of damage. Here are a few notable examples of wedge tornadoes passing through and leaving destruction in their wake:

March 2022

A massive EF4 wedge tornado caused major damage as a part of the March 2022 tornado outbreak. There was severe damage to homes and businesses in the Winterset area of Iowa, where six fatalities were recorded.

March 2021

In March 2021, there was a considerable amount of damage caused by an EF2 wedge tornado as it moved from Happy in Swisher County to the east of Canyon in Randall County in Texas.

There was significant roof damage and uprooted trees and power lines. Overall, the damage was worth roughly $1.2 million.

April 2020

In the month of April 2020, a wedge tornado caused a significant amount of damage to the homes of residents in San Jacinto and Polk County in Texas. Three people were killed, and another 33 were injured.

The wedge tornado caused roughly $5 million worth of damages, with homes being destroyed, roofs were lost, and trees were uprooted.

April 2019

A wedge tornado passed through Blue, Oklahoma, that was ranked EF-3 on the Enhanced Fujita scale. It killed two people, injured another nine, and caused some significant damage to local property. Also see ‘When Is Tornado Season In Oklahoma?‘)

May 2019

Back in the month of May 2019, a wedge tornado that ranked EF-4 on the Enhanced Fujita scale passed through Lawrence and Linwood in Kansas. Many homes were destroyed and 18 people were injured, but luckily, no one was killed.

November 2018

In the month of November 2018, a wedge tornado that was ranked EF-3 on the Enhanced Fujita scale passed through Taylorville, Illinois.

Although 22 people were injured, no one was killed. However, there was significant structural damage to many homes and businesses in the area.

April – May 2017

Between the months of April and May 2017, a wedge tornado appeared near Eustace, Texas. It was ranked EF-4 on the Enhanced Fujita scale, and killed 2 people, while 25 more were injured. There was roughly $1.2 million worth of damage to the area.

As you can see, wedge tornadoes can occur at different scales. However, because wedge tornadoes are so distinct, they are hard to classify directly. In a way, it is what makes a wedge tornado one of the most unique tornadoes found around the world.

What Makes A Wedge Tornado Unique?

Wedge tornadoes are one of the most distinctive types of tornado recorded (also see ‘What Are Stovepipe Tornadoes And How Dangerous Are They?‘) because of how wide they are.

Due to the width and strength of these tornadoes, they can cause more damage than other variants. However, because of their appearance, they can be difficult to identify.

Final Thoughts

Wedge tornadoes are distinct from other tornado variants that appear in America. They are wider and can be hard to identify, especially as they are not officially classed by meteorologists in the U.S. Rather they received their name from storm chasers.

While on average they rank at EF-3 on the Enhanced Fujita scale. Stronger wedge tornadoes have been spotted, with the highest being EF-4, and the lowest being EF-1.

If you see a wedge tornado, it’s best to seek shelter. As wedge tornadoes can encompass over a mile of land, and they can cause a significant amount of structural damage to both the home and human life.

Andrew Capper