Tornadoes in Memphis

What to Expect and How to Stay Safe

••• Photo credit: Getty Images / john finney photography.

When you think of areas with high tornadic activity, you probably think first of the Midwest in states like Kansas, Nebraska, and Oklahoma. And while the Mid-South doesn't see anywhere near the number of tornadoes that the Midwest sees, we do get our fair share of tornados and severe weather. 

Very few tornadoes ever touch down in the City of Memphis; in general, tornadoes are more likely to strike in an open area like plains and fields rather than dense urban areas with buildings.

Nevertheless, tornadoes can and have struck within the city. More commonly, though, tornadoes hit in outlying areas of the metro area including Mid-South suburbs. In recent years, recall tornadoes struck Bartlett, Germantown, DeSoto County, and Jackson, TN.

So just how common are tornadoes in the Mid-South? Here are some statistics from the National Weather Service:

  • Number of recorded tornadoes since 1990: 15
  • Months with the greatest number of tornadoes: June
  • Number of tornado related injuries since 1990: 39
  • Number of tornado related deaths since 1990: 6

When there is an increased possibility of a tornado, a tornado watch is issued by the National Weather Service. In the event that a tornado is spotted in the area, a tornado warning is issued and the tornado sirens will sound. In addition, keep an eye out for these signs of an impending tornado:

  • Continuous rotation in the cloud base
  • Debris or dust whirling around beneath the cloud base
  • Greenish tint to the sky
  • Sudden stillness after rain or hail
  • Loud rumbling, often compared to the sound of a train or a jet

In the event of a tornado warning, it is important to take shelter and follow these common tornado safety procedures:

  • If you are at home or in a sturdy building, avoid windows and seek shelter in the center-most room on the lowest floor of the house. Use a mattress or heavy piece of furniture as protection against falling debris.
  • If you are in a mobile home or automobile, go outside and lie down on low ground or in a depression or ditch.
  • If you are outside, seek shelter in a sturdy building if one is accessible. Otherwise, lie down outside on low ground, avoiding trees and cars which could injure you during a tornado.
  • No matter where you seek shelter, use your hands and arms to protect your head from flying debris.
  • If possible, put on shoes before seeking shelter. If a tornado does strike, you will be better able to climb over debris if you are wearing shoes.
  • Keep your identification on you. If you are hurt or disoriented, this can help emergency workers to identify you.

Updated by Holly Whitfield, January 2018