Tornadoes. One of the deadliest and most terrifying manifestations of nature's fury. They can strike anywhere at any time, claim hundreds of lives each year, and cause billions in widespread property damage.
Unless, of course, you live in the land of make-believe. There, only the visible funnel cloud is actually capable of damaging anything, and then, they usually don't even stir up any debris. Never mind that in real life the funnel cloud is only the center of the tornado, with wide radius of 300+ MPH ground winds pulling air (and earth and cows and so forth) into the funnel. Forget the fact that even an EF-1 tornado (on a scale of 0 to 5 in power) can rip the roofs off buildings and turn cars into flying battering rams, not to mention that an EF-5 tornado's damage level is scientifically described on the scale as "explosive"note Though it should be noted that tornadoes don't literally make things explode. As long as you don't touch the funnel cloud, you're in the clear every time. Yep.
Is trying this in real life dangerous? You'd better believe it. No one can come nearly as close to a real tornado as characters do on TV without already having been sucked up into it — or bludgeoned by one of the objects circling in the air around it. In reality, if you're less than a mile away from the storm, you're in trouble.Bigtrouble.
Though this trope runs on some heavy use of Artistic License, it's well-documented that tornadoes can be... capricious in their damage, destroying one house but leaving the one next door completely untouched, due to multiple vortices inside the funnel. Still, would you bet your life and safety on winning this meteorological lottery? Didn't think so...
Uses the same "scientific" principles as Convection Schmonvection, which basically state that only the visually obvious thing is dangerous — you can come very close to natural danger but if you don't touch it, you'll be fine. See also Unrealistic Black Hole, which is this trope In Space!If you want more information about tornadoes and what you should do to survive them, please check out the US National Weather Service Storm Prediction Center tornado safety page and our very own Tornadoes.
Compare Mega Maelstrom.
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Anime and Manga
Retsuga in Ginga Nagareboshi Gin can create tornadoes at will. This trope is played straight in the sense that the surrounding area seems to barely be affected... and then Retsuga goes and actually dives into the funnel cloud and "rides" the tornado to make a fancy exit. Needless to say, doing this does not harm him in any way.
Played more or less straight in one of the Mazinger Z series. One of the weapons of Mazinkaiser is Rust Tornado. The Humongous Mecha blews three tornadoes from its grill mouth. Of course, anything it touches gets obliterated, and the wind gales kick big dirt clouds and leave a trail of destruction in its wake (in the movie it dug a wiiiiide trench across Mount Fuji). Though the area surrounding the attack does not seem so affected how it should.
Averted in Ranma ˝: the basic form of the Heaven's Dragon Blast (or Hiryuu Shouten Ha) ultimate technique creates a tornado with, depending on the methods and circumstances, varying degrees of intensity. Even the weakest form creates very strong winds in the vicinity, which have visible effects on objects (and people) fairly separate from the funnel. Note that the revised versions of the technique behave on wildly different principles and don't necessarily apply.
But not averted in the videogames, where characters can stand directly next to the funnel (or even block it for Chipping Damage) to no ill effect.
In Pokémon, people and Pokémon can be seen narrowly dodging small funnel clouds - the result of the attack Whirlwind - without coming to any harm. On the other hand, Pokémon do get sucked into whirlpools.
Used in a filler episode of Dragon Ball Z. A dragonball is caught in a tornado, which our heroes are watching from less than fifty feet away without so much as upsetting their balance. The obvious solution to their dilemma: send the super-powered five-year-old flying into the storm to retrieve the ball. Granted, this all turned out to be an illusion later, but the improbability of this isn't really touched on by the characters at all.
A hurricane trashes Kurozu-cho in Uzumaki searching for Kirie. It does a lot of damage, but she and Shuichi survive at point-blank range. Later, when everything is descending into chaos, the townspeople discover they can create their own tornadoes by making loud noises; these are strong enough to lift people, but again, have little effect if they don't hit you directly.
Played straight in Bleach. During the Hueco Mundo arc, after witnessing a tornado spawn literally right in front of them, Chad, Uryu, and Ichigo try to run away from the tornado. Made worse by the fact that Chad notices the wind picking up even before the tornado spawns.
Zoro in One Piece after the timeskip can now create these with one attack.
Averted in the Yu-gioh: Capsule Monsters movie. The winds kick up debris and sand some distance from the visible funnel during the First Trial.
Averted in Calvin & Hobbes: The Series - the two two-part episodes that feature tornadoes ("The Black Turning Funnel" and "The Falling Sky") display them relatively realistically.
At the end of Rock-A-Doodle, the evil Duke of Owls actually turns into one of these as part of his One-Winged Angel act as a last-minute attempt to kill all the animals living on Chanticleer's farm since none of them drowned in the flood the Duke sent to destroy the farm.
Films — Live-Action
The most obvious example is, of course, Twister. But pay special attention to when the giant F-5 tornado picks up The Rival's SUV only after the physical funnel cloud touches it, and how the heroes are able to survive being out in the open during that same mega-twister without being flayed alive by the super-strong winds and flying debris. It's at least inconsistently averted, though, because there are multiple times where you'll see stuff being thrown around when the visible funnel clouds are actually quite distant. Notably, the "flying cow" scene. Interestingly, while the winds are apparently strong enough to blow a house off its foundations and roll it (intact) across the road our heroes our driving on, it's apparently not strong enough to, say, roll their midsized pickup truck off the road. And how everything except the heroes and whatever they're driving gets picked up/ripped out of the ground/pulled toward the tornadoes (fence posts being yanked out of the ground right behind them while the F5 is still a ways away, the tanker truck flying around while their pickup is still grounded, the jumping tornado yanking up a series of power poles and throwing motorboats around, etc.). The Applied Phlebotinum that is the focal point of the movie functions correctly outside the funnel cloud, even though it requires high winds to work.
It could also be interpreted in that all the main characters and their vehicles have Plot Armor that protects them until the funnel cloud touches them. Everything else reacts as it would in a real tornado.
And then there's the made-for-TV movie Night Of The Twisters, which has the heroes outrunning a tornado's funnel cloud that is literally right on their bumper during the finale. Especially weird in that an earlier scene has a tornado tear a wall off the protagonist's house while the funnel cloud was hundreds of yards away. That last one must have just been in a really good mood.
The most ridiculous example yet comes from another made-for-TV flick: The blatant Twister rip-off Tornado! Here, the heroes are caught in the open trying to secure a weather analysis machine, and don't even notice that the F-5 tornado just passed right over them and they're now inside of it. The Cool Old Guy ultimately secures the machine and sacrifices himself by letting the twister engulf him, even though the "killer" storm just proved completely harmless to the rest of the cast. Wow.
Averted in the film Places In The Heart, where no funnel cloud is ever seen, and the damage to the town is catastrophic.
And there's also The Wizard of Oz, where the twister picks up Dorothy's entire house but doesn't shred it to pieces or kill her. But at the end we find out that that part of the movie was All Just a Dream, where the actual rules of real-world physics don't necessarily apply. It also averts this trope in a way: with the visible (windsock) funnel still a ways away, the wind is blowing loud and hard, and a screen door sails away as Dorothy opens it to run inside the house (she's unable to get inside the storm cellar).
Oz: The Great and Powerful zigzags this one. On the one hand, Oscar's balloon-basket gets pierced by fence posts and other flung debris; on the other, its bag stays intact enough to make it to Oz.
The Day After Tomorrow. One sequence has a swarm of twisters demolish L.A. Not so bad, yet. Then they show a flight of helicopters tailing the tornadoes from about two blocks away. Somewhere, a meteorologist is crying...
Not to mention that these funnel clouds were in the upper atmosphere, and did not necessarily have to extend all the way to ground level.
Averted in Storm Cell. Appropriate, since it's about a meteorologist who specializes in tornado work.
The Lucky Ones goes crazy with this. In the middle of the Nevada desert, the protagonists run into a random tornado. They quickly abandon the car they're in and hide in a nearby drain-pipe. Not only do they survive, the car gets through it without a scratch.
Demonstrated in Thor, when our eponymous hero creates a tornado in the middle of a town and little besides what is directly within the funnel cloud gets tossed around. But it's a magic-controlled tornado.
In Man of Steel, the tornado which kills Jonathan Kent had some kick outside of the funnel proper, but nowhere near what a twister is really capable of. For one thing, one person stands perfectly still and doesn't move an inch even as he's enveloped by the funnel cloud.
In The Seven Serpents of the Sorcery! gamebook series, the protagonist encounters a miniature tornado. If he touches it, he is sucked into it and it is Game Over.
Justified to an extent in the Russian Tales of the Magic Land: the hurricane in question is magically created by a Wicked Witch, and enchanted by a Good Witch to deal as little damage as possible (specifically, she aimed it at a single house which she expected to be empty, but it didn't quite work that way).
Averted in the Little House books. Laura was describing the effects of real tornadoes in the area around De Smet. Including the weirdness of a guy who survived being picked up -and put down- by a tornado. Though he was stripped of every stitch of clothing.
Averted in Bones episode "The Twist in the Twister," which features the characters being pelted with small and very large debris while the funnel cloud is still in the background.
The tornado in the cliffhanger ending of the first season of Smallville.
Averted in Desperate Housewives (season 4 episode 10), where the cyclone is shown as being quite dangerous even at a distance. However, Lynette and Mrs. McCluskey are still able to stand outside in the storm without being blown away as they watch the funnel cloud bear down on them.
In Tin Man the tornado travel storm sits right beside DG's house for several minutes without doing any damage to it.
Averted in Storm Chasers, a Discovery Channel documentary series that follows teams of storm chasers as they pursue tornadoes across the countryside, the potential lethality of the storms being constantly reiterated. It is even highlighted when in one episode a purpose-built armored vehicle designed to drive into a tornado and survive has one of its windows blown out when a tornado suddenly intensifies on top of them, the driver and one of the passengers suffering cuts to their faces from flying glass. The fourth season starts off showing the effects of the EF4 tornado that struck Yazoo City, Mississippi in April 2010, one man being shown with a bloodied head and another man is found on the ground unconscious. The 5th season takes this Up to Eleven with multiple tornadoes striking major cities throughout the Midwest and Southeast. Scenery Gorn out the wazoo.
Inverted completely in Roseanne in the tornado episode. Their area gets put under a tornado watch and they basically do everything short of writing their wills (though little in the way of actual useful preparations) they are so sure the tornado is going to encounter their specific house. The Gallows Humor they trade after receiving the watch wouldn't be out of place in Dr. Strangelove. For those of don't live in a tornado prone area, tornado watches just mean that conditions are right, it doesn't mean a tornado will necessarily form, much less that it will even be near your town.
In an episode of My Name Is Earl, Randy is sucked up by a tornado and deposited on the roof of the motel.
Used in Whirlwind, where the goal is to guide a tornado to your area.
Averted in the Match Sequence for The Wizard of Oz — even though the tornado's in the distance, it still manages to throw debris around and into the screen.
Averted in Dungeons & Dragons. Tornadoes suck everything towards them in a very large radius.
Interestingly enough, this is at least mildly averted in a particular side quest in The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, where you meet Cyclos, the god of cyclones, and, even if you try to stop your boat, it continues to move closer to the cyclone the god creates, not to mention, your arrows which you are using to get him to notice you, are being thrown absolutely everywhere!
Also barely averted in the Water dungeons of The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time and Majora's Mask, in which Link can still be sucked into vortices even if he keeps a distance, particularly if he is swimming rather than walking underwater (this could have been justified/hand waved by the anchoring weight of the iron boots in Ocarina of Time, and by Zora Magic in Majora's Mask). The radius of the vortices, however, is still not as broad as in real life.
In later stages of the Katamari Damacy games, there are tornadoes that, much like the vicious animals of early stages, will blast you away if your Katamari collides with the funnel. Never mind, of course, that you can pick up said tornadoes once you're big enough, as well as rainbows etc. Extremely little scrutiny reveals that we're never meant to take this seriously.
Jumping into a tornado in Sonic Adventure, perhaps Sonic the Hedgehog (2006) and Shadow the Hedgehog is encouraged. Not to mention the surrounding platforms are completely unharmed except for occasional flying debris. Possibly lampshaded in the latter; Knuckles shouts for help when sucked up, despite it being the only possible way forward for himself and Shadow.
Averted in Sonic the Hedgehog (2006): Part of the Crisis City stage involves Sonic running away from a whirlwind—while he's a remarkably short distance away from it unaffected by the wind, he has his hands (actually feet) full dodging all the flying shrapnel around it.
In Crysis, there is a sequence towards the end where you have to weave your VTOL craft through some truly insane weather, including many tornados. This is a partial subversion in that, yes, you don't have to actually touch the funnel cloud to be doomed, but you do have to get darn close to it before you begin suffering any ill effects.
Zigzagged in SimCity, depending on the game; only the square touched by the tornado is directly harmed, but any buildings they touch are instantly reduced to rubble, be it a single-storey house or a nuclear power plant. Or even an asphalt road.
Diablo II. The Druid class has a few egregious examples, but the most offensive is the Hurricane skill, which is one of the Level 30 tree's-end techniques. Plainly, it summons a frickin hurricane that you then walk around in. Not only are you completely unharmed by it, neither are your allies. Enemies are not sucked in; instead, anything that comes into contact takes significant damage and dies. The lore says the druid is unharmed because he is in the eye of the cyclone. Also interesting are the actual Tornado and especially Twister spells: the latter produces three tornadoes that are so tiny as to miss targets two druid lengths in front of you, and getting hit only stuns you for a fraction of a second. The former correctly deals damage around it, where 'around it' is defined as the size of a large monster, and because it deals damage over time it cannot even interrupt monsters. This spell set goes nicely with the waist height volcano, but it is no surprise the sequel features Energy Twister, a tornado of whirling magic!.
Averted with the Tornado spell in Sacrifice: units in the target area go flying before the funnel cloud is even fully formed.
Partially averted in Final Fantasy VI - the Whirlwind spell damages everyone on screen. You can still jump over it though.
Auron in Final Fantasy X can generate tornadoes in a special attack. Naturally, all enemies regardless of size are sucked up and party members aren't. Said tornado can also be set onfire. By throwing alcohol into it.
The other two party members run away before it comes out, at least (and they only otherwise do so to make room for an aeon). Still doesn't explain why Auron himself is unaffected, of course.
A partial aversion in Dissidia: Final Fantasy: most wind-based attacks (Garland's Cyclone, Terra's Tornado, Vaan's Windburst, etc) only hurt the opponent if they touch the funnel cloud in the center, but the attacks will absorb and pull them into the cloud if they're too close.
Averted in Giants: Citizen Kabuto, the caster (Delphi) is immune to the effects of the tornado, but enemies and even the local wild life are sucked in from a distance. Close buildings are also destroyed.
Populous: The Beginning has tornadoes that aren't always under your control, you can tell them where they start but after that they can wander off. They are very destructive when cast right on top of a building as they stay in place for a while. Afterwards, the tornado will head off in a random direction, zigzagging on the way. Anything caught in the funnel will be sucked into the air, levitated for a while then launched into a random direction; the tornado itself doesn't do damage to people but the fall does.
Scribblenauts has extremely annoying tornadoes that have debris clouds as per real life, but which don't actually affect you (or anything else) unless they're touched.
Played straight in Backyard Football, where the twister powerup blows the opponents away when they touch it.
World of Warcraft uses this with a couple bosses which summon tornadoes. Even more egregious, some NPCs can use tornadoes to imprison you, causing no damage whatsoever. So can Druid players. Of course, it's all caused by magic. Shamans also get a swirly-whirlwind-twister-thing every time their Windfury Weapon spell activates, though it appears for less than three seconds.
NiGHTS Into Dreams has the villain Wizeman the Wicked use a tornado as one of his attacks. It slowly advances towards the player and pushes them away if they hit the funnel itself, but it doesn't hurt. There's also a narrow weak spot where NiGHTS can drill through in order to get past the tornado.
Shamal's Square attack in Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha A's Portable: The Battle of Aces produces small tornadoes that slowly track the enemy. Naturally, they only deal damage to you when you touch them.
Everyone involved has Barrier Jackets capable of standing up to kiloton-range energy blasts, albeit with heavy damage, as well as flight capability, so this is a Justified Trope for once.
In the second No One Lives Forever game, Cate travels to a small town in Ohio while it is under attack from a tornado. There, she has to discover clues about H.A.R.M.'s plan while fending off waves of female Ninja. Meanwhile, the funnel cloud is moving around them conveniently destroying houses while leaving everything beyond the immediate vicinity intact. Also, the fight with the ninja boss takes place in a house that has been picked up by the tornado.
A particularly whacked-out example occurs in a Mario Party 5 minigame, where the players end up inside a giant tornado, and with hammers try to whack each other to the funnel winds surrounding them in order to eliminate them.
Also played straight with Tengu Man and Tornado Man's tornadoes.
Mega Man X: Subverted by Launch Octopus's whirlpool, which sucks the player in even if they don't touch it. Played straight with Storm Eagle's, Storm Owl's, and Spiral Pegacion's tornadoes, which only damage the player on contact and do not suck the player in.
Played straight in Age of Mythology, where if the Tornado god power touches enemy units, they're sucked into it and spun around a few times before being blown out the top, dead. It also rips parts off of buildings that are close to it. Granted, it doesn't quite have to touch things to damage them, but you can still get way closer to one than should be possible.
In Trail of the Twister, you can direct Nancy's car freely around the map even when a big (and stationary) tornado is whirling away in one part of it. Turning the car towards the tornado does make Nancy complain about how she's going the wrong way, but you don't crash or get killed unless you drive right into the thing.
Air Force Delta Strike, Operation Raccoon Hunt: You have to fly into the center of a funnel cloud to destroy tornado generators. You can fly right up to the wall of the funnel on both the outside and inside of it, but don't touch the funnel, itself.
Bug! had dust storm hazards in Reptilia that resembled mini-tornadoes. They wouldn't suck Bug in, and would only damage him if he touched them.
Averted in the Kessen series; then again, part of the appeal of spells in the series is watching all the little dudes get tossed around. However, damage-wise it does play it straight, as men that are tossed around at the edges have a moderate chance of survival, albeit shaken and morale-broken. The Dragon and Fissure spells follow the same pathing and are much more lethal.
In inFAMOUS 2, Cole is later able to create them, casing massive damage as well as wiping out any human sized person.
Little Samson has little funnel clouds that move from left to right or right to left and push characters around on contact.
Assassins Creed IV has waterspouts; even though only the funnel itself damages your ship, they will still pull you towards them from further away.
In the Sky Odyssey mission "the storm before the calm" the player is required to fly through a hurricane like storm over the Dark Sea. In this level you have to avoid touching the thunderclouds or else your plane gets blown into the ground. Also in the mission you get sucked into a tornado like vortex. You have to fly through the center of the funnel without touching the cloud walls. Failure to do so causes your aircraft to explode.
Todd Flanders is driven through a tree during a hurricane. While he should be squished, objects like 2x4's have been driven clean through a tree by the winds of these storms.
There is another point when Homer leaves the family shelter because he mistakes the eye of the hurricane for the end of the storm. When he runs back to the shelter, he is pulled off the ground, only to get grabbed by the rest of the family and spun around.
Even the Care Bears are not exempt from tornado terror: Hug, Tugs, and Tenderheart had run-in with a tornado in the Tear Jerker episode, "The Sleeping Giant".
Zig-Zagged in Transformers Prime. A tornado drags June Darby's car towards it long before the funnel cloud comes close to it, and lifts it into the air as well before Bumblebee grabs onto it. But then June and Raf climb out of the car to get into Bumblebee's hands. Winds strong enough to pull the car like that should have sucked them off the moment they got out of the car.
Pinky and the Brain: "Brain Storm" is about Brain's attempt to harness a tornado for his latest scheme to take over the world. This trope is mostly in effect, although they are occassionally battered by a piece of flying debris (cow, pig, tractor...) because of the Rule of Funny.
The tornado in The Band Concert acts as if it were sentient, sucking up trees and buildings like a vaccum cleaner. It picks up Mickey and his band while they are still playing, too rapt up in the music to notice, and drops them harmlessly around a tree like Christmas ornaments.
The Little Whirlwind gives similar treatment to a whirlwind, depicted as a mischevious child interfering with Mickey's yard work. Mickey chases it away, only to be chased himself by the whirlwind's mother, a full-grown tornado (which reuses some of the same animation as Band Concert).
Similar whirlwinds appear in Playful Pluto and A Gentleman's Gentleman to bedevil Pluto The Pup.
In Family Guy, the funnel cloud is in the Griffins' front yard before they decide that they should run for the storm cellar.
King of the Hill subverts this as well during the twister episode. The winds are strong even before the funnel cloud strikes, with Bobby even trying to make an egg smash through a brick wall thanks to what he's heard from Dale, and literally gets egg in his face. Hank is only able to make it to the storm cellar with the rest of his family thanks to the eye of the storm.
Naturally averted. However, for lower grade tornadoes, this really isn't a concern, so long as you stay in a safe location. Once you start getting up to F3 and beyond, it's time to run...to suitable cover. Where you will hunker down, with something soft protecting you, while praying to the deity of your choice, if you so desire. Just to make things clear, you should not be attempting to outrun a tornado. Even assuming you could move faster than the funnel cloud, you'd probably get a 2x4 through the head for being out in the open, or get hit by a house.
If conditions are right there can be no visible funnel at all. It's made from debris and water vapor after all.
A Ron White routine refers to a real news story about a man refusing to be evacuated during a storm (actually a hurricane), saying he was going to tie himself to a pole to prove that he was in good enough shape to withstand the wind. As Ron pointed out "It's not that the wind is blowing; it's what the wind in blowing. If you get hit with a Volvo, it doesn't really matter how many sit-ups you did that morning."
The violent Manchester Tornado is a very good example of the deceptive size of these storms. While the condensation funnel is hardly small, the dirt whipped up around it tripled the size of the visible funnel, which causes it to represent the size much more accurately. If the ground had been wet enough however, it's very likely that the chasers would have been sucked into the vortex getting as close as they did to the funnel cloud.
On March 28, 2000, Dallas and Fort Worth, Texas was severely damaged after a particularly bad storm system spawned a number of tornadoes. One managed to beat the odds and run right through downtown Ft. Worth—some buildings were destroyed outright, and a few skyline buildings had to be demolished later. That the tornado sucked up so much debris complicated the cleanup process. Since most of the highrise buildings in Ft. Worth and other major Sunbelt cities are faced entirely of reflective glass, to cut down on air conditioning costs, the tornado amounted to a funnel cloud made out of shards of broken glass. Downtown Ft. Worth was barricaded off for a few days after the storm, because large pieces of broken glass continued to fall out of the window frames.
In 2012, some striking images of another tornado in the DFW area have emerged, stirring up whole trucks.
A tornado that blew through Salt Lake City happened during the lunch hour news broadcasts. One reporter called the news studio while only a couple of blocks away from the funnel. The effects of the tornado can be heard in the audio, despite the reporter's distance from the funnel. In typical tornado fashion, damage was strangely haphazard-an exposition was being held in two enormous tents set up next to one another. The tornado destroyed one (killing a man) and left the other virtually untouched-neither were hit directly by the funnel, however.
On May 31, 2013, several storm chasers had their vehicles hit by an EF-5 tornado just south of El Reno, Oklahoma. Among them was respected tornado scientist Tim Samaras, who was killed along with the two other people in the vehicle, his son Paul Samaras and colleague Carl Young. Some other chasers and meteorologists who witnessed the storm have speculated that this tornado had an unusually large area of extremely intense winds extending away from the visible funnel cloud, which may have contributed to the veteran chasers being caught off-guard.
It was, unfortunately, a real life example of touching the funnel cloud. The tornado suddenly expanded to record size and started moving at 55mph. One chaser was caught but managed to drive out of the tornado; Tim Samaras was just a few seconds behind on the same road and ran into a satellite vortex that had moved onto the road between the two cars.
As described above, tornadoes can be incredibly capricious. The 2013 Moore, Oklahoma tornado destroyed most of the town, including smashing a bowling alley to bits. However, in one lane it left all 10 pins standing.