Meteorologists use a six-level scale to rate tornadoes, which uses damage caused by the storm to estimate the twister’s wind speed.
The Enhanced Fujita Scale starts at 0, the weakest rating, and goes to 5, the strongest rating.
Here are seven things to know about EF-4 and EF-5 tornadoes, which fall into the worst of the scale.
1. They are violent
According to the National Weather Service, winds in an EF-4 tornado are estimated to be between 166 and 200 mph, while EF-5 tornadoes have estimated winds of more than 200 mph.
2. They cause extensive damage
Both EF-4 and EF-5 tornadoes cause devastating damage.
In the case of an EF-4, well-constructed homes can be swept off their foundation, vehicles can be thrown considerable distances and trains can be swept off their tracks.
The damage from an EF-5 tornado is catastrophic. Homes and businesses are swept away, trees are debarked, vehicles are mangled and skyscrapers sustain major damage. Even the grass can be ripped out of the ground.
3. They are rare
EF-4 and EF-5 tornadoes are among the rarest cyclones on the planet. In the United States, there were only 572 EF-4 and 59 EF-5 tornadoes between 1950 and 2019. So, that works out to an average of about eight EF-4 tornadoes in the U.S. each year. For EF-5 tornadoes, the U.S. yearly average is less than one.
4. The last EF-4 happened in 2021
As of the date of publish, the last officially rated EF-4 tornado happened in Newnan, Georgia, on March 25, 2021.
According to the NWS, the twister touched down just before midnight and reached peak winds of 170 mph as it came through the town located about 40 miles southwest of Atlanta. One person was killed, more than 400 families were displaced and more than 1,000 structures were damaged.
5. The last EF-5 happened in 2013
As of the date of publish, the last officially rated EF-5 tornado happened in Moore, Oklahoma, on May 20, 2013.
The monster tornado killed 24 people and injured at least 200 people were injured along the storm's 17-mile path through the town just southeast of Oklahoma City.
The twister caused an estimated $2 billion in damage.
6. The worst tornado ever happened in 1925
The worst tornado in U.S. history happened on March 18, 1925. The Tri-State Tornado, as it is called, tore a 219-mile path across Missouri, Illinois and Indiana. The nearly mile-wide twister with winds near 300 mph killed 695 people and injured more than 2,000. About 15,000 homes were destroyed.
7. Some call them the ‘Finger of God’
Tornadoes on the highest end of the Enhanced Fujita Scale are referred to by some as the "Finger of God."
The phrase was popularized by the 1996 film "Twister." In a scene that features a group of storm chasers and other people gathered around a table for lunch discussing the "Fujita Scale," the precursor to the Enhanced Fujita Scale that we use today.
"Is there an F5? What would that be like?" someone at the table asks.
"The finger of God," one of the chasers replies.