Can a tornado pick up a car?

My husband and I just moved to Kansas—in the heart of Tornado Alley. We’ve heard lots of stories from our neighbors about the twisters that roll through here, and we’re a little worried about what to do if we see one while driving. Will a tornado be able to pick up our car?

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Answer provided by
Samuel Todd
Answered on Feb 18, 2022
No doubt, tornadoes can be pretty scary, and it’s good that you’re preparing for them. Here’s the bottom line: A tornado can pick up a car, but the amount of damage that it does will depend on the type of car and strength of the tornado.
Tornados are usually classified by the strength of their winds, on a scale from 0 to 5:
  • F0: 40-72 mph winds
  • F1: 73-112 mph winds
  • F2: 113-157 mph winds
  • F3: 158-206 mph winds
  • F4: 207-260 mph winds
  • F5: 260-318 mph winds
A light F0 tornado probably won’t do much damage—it’ll stir up some dust, and maybe knock over a few small trees, but shouldn’t affect your car.
If a tornado starts to swirl a little faster, and lands in the F1 category, it could push your car to the side of the road.
Once you get to an F2 strength (or stronger), the twister will begin to pick up objects like cars, cows, and trees, and toss them around in the air. This is possible because most cars have a great deal of surface area—pair that with the strong updrafts near the center of a tornado, and you’ve got all the necessary ingredients for lift-off.
If you come across a twister while you’re driving along a Kansas highway or backroad, you’ll want to pull to the side of the road, strap your seatbelts, and duck beneath the windows—this should keep you safe while the twister passes.
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