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Regional Risks: Central U.S.

Tornadoes Threaten Central States

If you live in the central United States, you are most at risk for tornadoes, hail and in rare occasions, earthquakes. Heavy winter storms are also common throughout the United States and could lead to flooding, especially if you live near creeks or rivers.

Understanding what you're most at risk for and creating disaster plans in advance can help you prepare to save lives and minimize loss and damages to your property.


Tornadoes are violent columns of air that appear as rotating, funnel-shaped clouds extending from the sky to the ground. Tornadoes usually occur at the tail end of a severe thunderstorm and can also be caused by hurricanes. They are extremely dangerous and can appear suddenly with very little warning. Tornadoes can appear anywhere in the United States, but are most common in the Great Plains.

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Although hail can happen anywhere, the most hail-prone area of the United States – nicknamed hail alley – includes southeastern Wyoming, northeastern Colorado, and the southern Nebraska Panhandle. Typically part of a thunderstorm, hail begins as tiny ice pellets that collide with water droplets and grow in size as they are tossed around by the storm's strong winds. Tornadoes and hurricanes may also bring hail. Some severe storms can even produce large hail stones that can reach the size of baseballs or softballs.

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An earthquake is a sudden shaking or movement of the ground due to shifts in the earth's tectonic plates (outermost crust). Earthquakes are not common occurrences. However, they can be very disruptive because they occur suddenly and tend to affect large areas. Earthquakes can be a one-time event of a few seconds shaking or a series of events of varying duration. They can cause extensive damage to property and loss of life. Earthquakes can cause tsunamis if the hypocenter (starting point) of the earthquake is in the ocean.

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Winter Storms

Severe winter weather can occur in many forms. Rain, sleet, ice, snow, hail, blizzards in any combination is possible. Often, a change of only a few degrees in temperature can make the difference between a rainy winter day and a severe winter storm.

Winter storms can knock out power, heat and communication to your home or business, sometime for many days. A severe storm can immobilize an entire region.

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Flooding is one of the most common natural disasters in the United States and can affect the entire country not just one region. A flood can occur due to severe storms and hurricanes. The risk of flooding is higher near bodies of water, downstream from a dam or in low-lying areas.

Floods can happen slowly or, in some cases, very suddenly, as in the case of flash floods. Flash floods happen when the ground can't absorb the amount of water that has fallen on it. They are especially dangerous because they happen without warning and often carry a lot of debris with them. Many people underestimate the power of a flood and try to cross streams or flooded areas in their vehicles only to get swept away by the water. It only takes one foot of water to float most vehicles, and only two feet of rushing water to sweep away most SUVs.

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