North Dakota Tornadoes

Tornadoes are Nature's Most Violent Storms

North Dakota has on average 23 reported  tornadoes a year (1950 through 2012). The numbers range from only two in 1950, 1951 and 1961 to as many as 61 in 1999. Most tornadoes in the state occur from 3 PM to 11 PM local time in the months of June, July and August. Below are more interesting tornado facts for North Dakota and the nation.

Turtle Lake Tornado on July 28, 1996

Development Phase Mature Stage Dissipation Stage

Did You Know That?

  • The earliest tornado in the calendar year in North Dakota occurred on March 26th, 2003. Around 418 PM, a tornado briefly touched down about 2 miles southwest of Edmunds in Stutsman County. Minor damage was reported with this tornado.
    This photo was taken by Dave Bolin.
Stacy Adolf-Whipp (forwarded e-mail through Kevin Lawrence at KFYR-TV)
  • The latest tornado in the calendar year in North Dakota occurred on November 1, 2000.  Around 1 PM, the first of several tornadoes touched down in the northern part of Bismarck and moved Northwest.  There were several injuries and considerable damage in north Bismarck.
    This photo was taken by SKYWARN spotter and amateur radio operator Pat Whitlock, KØTVS.
  • The longest tornado track in North Dakota was 47.5 miles. This tornado occurred on May 5, 1964 and moved across parts of Emmons, McIntosh and Logan counties.

  • The greatest tornado path width was 6000 feet and occurred in Bottineau County on June 26, 1986.

  • From 1950 through 2012, Cass County reported the most tornadoes with 91. The county with the fewest tornadoes is BIllings with 7.

  • The United States has 75% of the World's tornadoes!

  • The average forward speed of a tornado is 30 mph, but can range from stationary to 70 mph.

  • Most tornadoes move toward the northeast. However, tornadoes can move in any direction (some have even moved toward the west).

  • The most destructive tornado in North Dakota history occurred in Fargo during the evening of June 20, 1957. This tornado episode consisted of five different tornadoes, each taking its turn on the ground as the storm traveled 27.4 miles across Cass and into Clay counties.  The tornadoes were 1500 feet wide and the one that hit Fargo was classified as an F5 tornado (winds of 261-318 mph). There were 10 fatalities and 103 injuries.

Killer Tornadoes in North Dakota

From 1950 through 2012, there have been 26 fatalities and 351 injuries from tornadoes.  Below is a list of those tornadoes in North Dakota that have caused fatalities:

  •   July 1, 1952 in Burleigh and Kidder counties: 2 fatalities (one in each county)

  •   May 29, 1953 in Morton County: 2 fatalities

  •   July 2, 1955 in Richland County:  2 fatalities

  •   June 20, 1957 in Cass County:  10 fatalities

  •   June 24, 1966 in Cavalier County: 1 fatality

  •   June 29, 1975 in Hettinger County: 1 fatality

  •   July 4, 1978 in Grant County: 5 fatalities

  •   July 23, 1997 in Renville County: 1 fatality

  •   August 26, 2007 in Grand Forks County: 1 fatality

  •   August 12, 2010 in Ward County: 1 fatality

North Dakota Tornado Classifications

The National Weather Service used to classify tornadoes using the Fujita tornado scale (F scale).  The Fujita scale, devised by Dr. T. Theodore Fujita (1971), was used to classify U.S. tornadoes in six intensity categories, F0-F5.

Here is the Fujita (F) Scale:
  •  F0 ( 40-72 mph)        
  •  F1 ( 73-112 mph)
  •  F2 (113-157 mph)
  •  F3 (158-206 mph)
  •  F4 (207-260 mph)
  •  F5 (261-318 mph)

F5 (highest rating) tornadoes have hit Cass, Emmons, and Morton counties.

Today, we use the Enhanced Fujita (EF) Scale. Structural engineers and meteorologists believe this new EF scale better accounts for tornado intensity
based on damage done and structural integrity.

Here is the Enhanced Fujita (EF) Scale:
  •  EF0 ( 65-85 mph)
  •  EF1 ( 86-110 mph)
  •  EF2 (111-135 mph)
  •  EF3 (136-165 mph)
  •  EF4 (166-200 mph)
  •  EF5 (201+ mph)

Remember, these scales are "Damage" scales, not "Wind" scales.

For a tornado to be counted in these statistics it must be reported. It is entirely possible for a tornado to occur in the state without anyone knowing it. It is therefore no coincidence that those counties with the highest number of reported tornadoes are also those counties with higher populations. is the U.S. government's official web portal to all federal, state and local government web resources and services.