What do Tornadoes Sound like?

What does a Tornado Sound like? Why do Tornadoes sound like Trains? How loud is a Tornado? What does a Tornado Smell like?
what do tornadoes sound like
Image by Brigitte Werner from Pixabay

You would have heard of a tornado or seen them on TV. Sometimes, you would have heard people saying their personal experiences. Have you ever wondered what do tornadoes sound like? Though not all tornadoes sound alike, they do have a terrifying sound. To know more about it, read this article which answers a few questions: what does a tornado sound like and why do tornadoes sound like trains.

1. Do Tornadoes always make Noise?

No, tornadoes don’t produce noise at all times. Tornadoes emit sounds from 1 Hz to 10 Hz. Powerful tornadoes can be perceived from approximately 2 km–6 km away. Terrain also matters when it comes to sensing the presence of a tornado. For example, a tornado occurring in a posh urban milieu is more likely to be perceived than in a grassland. In conclusion, the sound is not the best aspect to rely on in terms of detecting a tornado. (See How many Tornadoes in Tennessee per year?)

2. What do Tornadoes Sound like? What does a Tornado Sound like?

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Photo by Nikolas Noonan on Unsplash

Various sounds have been compared to the sound of a volcano. So, what do tornadoes sound like in real?

  • Sound of a jet engine.
  • Sound emitted when a person sticks their head out of a car window moving at a speed of 110 km/h.
  • Sound of a Rolling Thunder.
  • Continuous rumble of a locomotive train on its tracks.
  • Sound of a waterfall.
  • Rumble of an earthquake. 
  • Buzzing sound of an enormous swarm of bees.
  • Crack and hiss sound of power lines. (See How do I Sound When I record Myself?)

3. Will you hear a Tornado coming? What does a Nearby Tornado Sound like?

Yes, according to an experiment, a tornado can be heard from a distance of around 3 or 4 km. The sound of a tornado depends on several factors, such as terrain and interaction of the tornado with the surface beneath. If a tornado occurs in a metropolis or a settlement, it is likely to gain more attention as compared to a tornado occurring in an empty plain like a grassland.

What do tornadoes sound like when it is nearing? A strong tornado is likely to make louder noise than a weak tornado. However, most tornadoes are silent. (See How are Typhoons formed?)

4. How Close is a Tornado when You can hear it?

A person may hear a strong tornado if they are within a radius of 2 km–6 km from it. The farther they move from it, the lower sounds get. A tornado can also be heard from the surroundings it is in. If a tornado is in a valley and uprooting trees, it is more likely to catch attention. Must read how to sound louder?

5. Why do Tornadoes sound like Trains?

Tornado witnesses and survivors often claim that tornadoes sound like freight trains. They sound like the rumble of the wheels against the railway track. Thunderstorms can quickly accelerate into tornadoes. They occur in the precipitation-free part of thunderstorms. The train sound of the tornado depends on the twister and the place where you are witnessing it. (See How are Earthquakes Distributed on the Map?)

6. What does a Tornado sound like from a Distance?

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Photo by Thilani Ratheep

You might ask what do tornadoes sound like from a distance; they make varied noises.

From a distance, tornadoes sound like roars, rumbles, and whirs. They also emit infrasound, which is inaudible to the human ear. The damage they cause, like crashing cars, uprooting trees, etc., adds to the noise. Tornadoes emit sounds from infrasound to normal hearing scales of frequency.

Colorado State University’s researchers fashioned an Infrasonic Tornado Detector. The successful experiment could detect subaudible frequencies of whirling air masses or vortices up to 1 Hz. In certain instances, the detector could even perceive the sounds of tornadoes from 100 km away. Oklahoma State University, Stillwater, and the University of Nebraska at Lincoln devised an apparatus to detect conditions that would be favorable for building up tornadoes or tornado genesis up to 2 hours before. Also, check out the 8 Sand Storms facts.

7. What does a Tornado sound like before it hits?

Before a tornado hits, the following sounds are heard:

  • In-cloud lightning: Lightning doesn’t hit the ground; it remains among the clouds.
  • Sudden Calm after Thunderstorm: Sudden calmness and stopping of precipitation are signs of an approaching tornado. The sudden calmness must not catch one off guard.
  • Formation of a Funnel-shaped Cloud: One would hear a continuous rumbling sound like a freight train running on tracks. This indicates the arrival of the tornado. The tornado is made of rotating winds in the shape of a funnel, so one would not witness it to be simply gliding down.
  • Sounds accompanied by Tornadoes: Tornadoes by themselves are not that loud. What raises the volume is the falling debris. The rotating winds outside the tornado’s eye move at approximately 450 km/h. These winds tend to pick up objects and hurl them towards another side. Since these objects tend to fall at a high velocity, they hit other objects with a high force, which causes loud noises. (See Is the Eye of a Hurricane Calm?)

8. How Loud is a Tornado?

What do tornadoes sound like depends on the winds of very strong tornadoes, like those at the speed of 450–500 km/h, and they can be very loud. Tornado survivors say their ears hurt while caught up in the tornado, but their cause of worry was the pain in the ears that would follow. The loudness also depends on the place from where you witness it. (See What is the Oldest River in the World?)

9. What does a Tornado Smell like?

Just before the tornado, it smells petrichor or ozone (a sweet and pungent smell) like after precipitation stops. It is because lighting splits atmospheric oxygen and nitrogen into ions, which combine to form nitric oxide. After further reactions, they form ozone, responsible for the earthy smell.

People who have observed tornadoes quite closely claim that they smell strongly like freshly cut grass. If the tornado has knocked down a house, it smells like natural gas. Tim Samaras, the late Storm chaser, described the smell inside the tornado as Tornadoes’ Terrible Sulfur Scent. He said it smells like a freshly lit matchstick or the smell of burning wood and a mixture of sulfur. (See Why are people afraid of storms?)

10. Can Animals sense Tornadoes?

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Photo by Colin Lloyd on Unsplash

Yes, a few animals can! Cats, dogs, and species of pet birds are sensitive to changes in barometric pressure, perhaps because they are sensitive to smell. Though there are no concrete scientific experiments to prove the argument, several people who have safely escaped the perils of tornadoes say that their pets, usually dogs, warned them about it. Experts hazard a guess and say that it is probably because pets pay closer attention to the warning signs. Signs of self-preservation are stronger because they are attuned to mother nature. (See Bloodhound – Dog with Best Sense of Smell)

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