by David Murphy
First, a personal story from one of my trips to Oklahoma reporting on the aftermath of tornado outbreaks. I visited a town southeast of Oklahoma City that had been flattened by an F-5 tornado (nowadays referred to as an EF-5). Not only had this twister packed winds well over 200 miles per hour, it's base was estimated to be about a mile wide. This is about as large and powerful as tornadoes get.
As I explored what was left of this suburban neighborhood, I saw several cars stacked up against a tree trunk in someone's front yard. When I asked the homeowner if they were his, she looked them over and shrugged. "They're not mine. They're not my neighbor's. I've never even seen them in the neighborhood." In other words, it's probable that these pick-up trucks and large sedans were lifted into the tornado's vortex and carried at least several blocks before they were thrown out of the twister and back to the ground. They may have even been carried from another town.
Case studies have shown a tornado's ability to produce amazing feats with the objects it encounters. Patrick L. Abbott reports in his text Natural Disasters (McGraw Hill) that the infamous Tri-State Tornado of March 1925 raised trees and sections of homes, suspending them in the air as it moved toward towns at a 60 mile-per-hour clip, apparently carrying these items over a number of city blocks. A Reverend's business cards were sent "air mail" more than 200 miles to a distant town. An engineer trying to ram through the tornado at top speed, rather than wait for it to envelop him, kept the train on the tracks, but "the roofs were stripped off his train cars like lids off sardine cans".
I have also read accounts over the years of locomotives being lifted off their tracks and onto adjacent sidings by strong tornadoes.