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What Does a Tornado Sound Like?

By August 11, 2008

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After we were under the third tornado watch in the last two weeks. My 10 year old son asked me "mommy, why does everyone on the news keep saying they heard a train?" So I explained to him that is what a tornado is supposed to sound like. Then he asked me "Like a whistle or what?" I didn't know the answer! I have never heard a tornado before.

Can you please tell me what sound a tornado makes exactly? The whistling sound or the wheels rumbling on the track?? Sometimes when we are under a warning, I listen so hard for a train that I think the rumbling of the thunder is it. Also if the jets are still flying nearby I get that sound confused as well. Thanks so much!!

For many the sound of a tornado is pure fear with a loud rushing sound that is impossibly loud if the tornado is close by. As an example, here is a link to a National Public Radio link on the sounds of a tornado. On this page host Liane Hansen speaks with physicist Al Bedard about the sounds of a tornado. Included in the audio file is a recording of a tornado. The interpretation of what the tornado sounds like is up to the listener.

And this is from the National Weather Service Storm Prediction Center Tornado FAQ...

What does a tornado sound like? That depends on what it is hitting, its size, intensity, closeness and other factors. The most common tornado sound is a continuous rumble, like a closeby train. Sometimes a tornado produces a loud whooshing sound, like that of a waterfall or of open car windows while driving very fast. Tornadoes which are tearing through densely populated areas may be producing all kinds of loud noises at once, which collectively may make a tremendous roar. Just because you may have heard a loud roar during a damaging storm does not necessarily mean it was a tornado. Any intense thunderstorm wind can produce damage and cause a roar.

But mostly, if you live in an area serviced by tornado sirens, it is just plain loud and all you hear at first are the sirens! Hopefully by the time you hear the sirens, you will have taken cover in a safe tornado shelter.


December 31, 2010 at 1:00 am
(1) David says:

I have the perfect description of what EXACTLY a tornado sounds like. Most people says they sound like trains which I think is not a great comparison. Since I have been through a few myself I know what they sound like. Have you ever been on an airliner jet during landing? After the airplane touches down they deploy thrust reversers which make a loud rumbling roar. That’s exactly what they sound like!! Weaker ones howl like hurricanes…but strong ones sound like landing on a jet. I hope that helps.

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