Pennsylvania’s Most Dangerous Cities for Severe Weather


Pennsylvania’s only F5 tornado was recorded in May 1985 during what is now referred to as the Barrie tornado outbreak, which swept three states and Ontario, Canada. The outbreak killed 65 Pennsylvanians, and throughout Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York, the outbreak caused $600 million worth of damage.

With the intensity of such a tornado outbreak in mind, decided to investigate which cities in Pennsylvania are the most dangerous in terms of severe weather such as wind, hail, lightning, and flooding. Here are the findings:

1.     Hempfield

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Photo credit: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Topping the list of the most dangerous Pennsylvania cities is Hempfield – named for the hemp fields in the surrounding areas. The township is located among 76.8 square miles of Westmoreland County, and with more than 43,200 residents, it’s the largest Pittsburgh suburb. Because the township surrounds the city of Greensburg, Hempfield is home to the University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg and the Greensburg campus of Carlow University.

2.     Tredyffrin

Tredyffrin Township

Photo credit: Tredyffrin Township

Tredyffrin is a township in Chester County – home to more than 29,300 Pennsylvanians. The city was originally a portion of the state set aside by William Penn for the Welsh to settle in, which is how the township got its name – ‘tref ‘meaning town, and ‘dyffryn’ meaning valley in Welsh. The township was incorporated in 1707 and is home to 14 buildings on the National Register of Historic Places.

3.     Reading

Reading, positioned halfway between Harrisburg and Philadelphia along a major transportation route, is home to the now inoperative Reading Railroad – one of four railroad properties featured in the board game Monopoly. The city also has popular attractions such as The Pagoda, the Reading Glove and Mitten Manufacturing Co., and the William Penn Memorial Fire Tower. Reading has a population of 88,082 and is situated in Berks County.

4.     Bensalem

Occupying 21 square miles of southern Bucks County, Bensalem was founded in 1682. The township is the location of the Parx Casino and Racetrack – a horse racing track that is one mile in length – which also was the filming site of portions of the movie Safe, starring Jason Statham. The township is home to 60,427 Pennsylvanians and is the largest municipality in the county.

5.     Lower Merion

Lower Merion

Photo credit: Montgomery County Planning Commission

Rounding out the top five most dangerous cities in Pennsylvania for severe weather is Lower Merion. The township is nestled in Montgomery County and has more than 57,800 residents. Lower Merion was settled in 1682 and is a suburb of Philadelphia. The township is the home of three venues on the National Register of Historic Places – the Mill Creek Historic District, Seville Theatre, and Green Hill Farms – as well as NBA star Kobe Bryant, director M. Night Shyamalan, and singer Teddy Pendergrass.

6.     Pittsburgh

With a population of more than 305,700, Pittsburgh is the second-largest city on the list. Located in Allegheny County, Pittsburgh ranks as the sixth most dangerous city in Pennsylvania for severe weather due to having the highest flood, hail, and wind scores of all top 25 cities. Pittsburgh is referred to as the Steel City due to its more than 300 businesses that deal with steel and as the City of Bridges since there are more than 446 located within it. Pittsburgh is home to the Andy Warhol Museum; rapper Wiz Khalifa; and several higher education institutions, such as the University of Pittsburgh, Carnegie Mellon University, and Duquesne University.

7.     Lancaster

Lancaster is chock full of history and culture. The city is home to 11 venues on the National Register of Historic Places, including Wheatland, the estate of 15th president, James Buchanan; Fulton Opera House, the oldest continuously run theater in the nation; and Hamilton Watch Complex, which sold the first  battery operated watch. Lancaster is located in Lancaster County and has a population of 59,322.

8.     York

Nestled among 5.26 square miles of York County, York is home to more than 43,700 residents. The city is often referred to as an architectural museum due to the fact that it has a plethora of well-maintained historic structures in the downtown area such as the Golden Plough Tavern (built in 1741) and the York Central Market (built 1888). York is home to the York Little Theatre and the Strand-Capitol Performing Arts Center, where performers such as B.B. King and Kenny G. have taken the stage, as well as the historic York Fair, which is believed to be the oldest in the U.S. It has featured artists such as Carrie Underwood and Lynyrd Skynyrd.

9.     Peters

Peters Township photo

Photo credit: Peters Township

Founded in 1781 as one of Washington County’s 13 original townships, Peters began as a farming community before shifting its focus to the coal industry. The township is home to the Enoch Wright House, a 12-room, two-kitchen home built in 1815 for two families and added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2007. Peters has a population of more than 21,200 and occupies 19.8 square miles of the county.

10.    Bethlehem

Bethlehem is situated in Northampton County and has more than 74,900 residents. Bethlehem is widely known for hosting an annual 10-day festival, Musikfest, which brings more than a million visitors to the city. Bethlehem recently opened a 10-acre portion of town called Steel Stacks which allows residents and visitors to see art, movies, music, and festivals year-round. Actors Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson and Jonathan Taylor Thomas hail from the area, and the city also is home to Lehigh University.

11.    Hopewell

Hopewell PA

Photo credit: Hopewell Township

With a population of 12,593, Hopewell is the second-smallest city on our list as well as a suburb of Pittsburgh. The Ohio River flows along the eastern border of the township. Hopewell is home to a 97.5-square mile industrial park called RIDC as well as NFL Hall of Famer Tony Dorsett. The township is situated among 17 square miles of Beaver County.

12.    Wilkes-Barre

Wilkes-Barre is in Luzerne County and has a population of 41,498. Founded in 1769, Wilkes-Barre is positioned between the Pocono Mountains, the Endless Mountains, the Lehigh Valley, and the Susquehanna River. The city is the site of a 1926 exhibition baseball game involving Hughestown and Larksville, during which it’s said that Babe Ruth mustered the strength to hit one of the longest home runs – approximately 650 feet – in baseball history.

13.    Allentown

Allentown PA

Photo credit: City of Allentown

Allentown is a significant city in terms of U.S. history. The city was the hiding place of the Liberty Bell during the American Revolution. Allentown is located in Lehigh County along the Lehigh River and has a population of more than 118,000. The city also is significant in reference to the arts as the Allentown Art Museum is the home of one of three of Leonardo Da Vinci’s horse sculptures.

14.    Meadville

Meadville – founded in 1788 – was the first permanent settlement in the northwest portion of the state. The city is home to eight venues on the National Register of Historic Places, including the Meadville Downtown Historic District, along with liberal arts school, Allegheny College. Meadville is in Crawford County at the confluence of French Creek and Cussewago Creek and is home to more than 13,300 Pennsylvanians.

15.    Oil City

Oil City PA

Photo credit: Oil City

With 10,557 residents, Oil City is the smallest dangerous city for severe weather in Pennsylvania. The city is nestled in Venango County at the confluence of the Allegheny River and Oil Creek.  Oil City became a pivotal city in the 1850s when oil wells began being dug and aiding in the rising petroleum industry. The city became home to big motor oil corporations such as Wolf’s Head, Pennzoil, and Quaker State.

16.    Upper Darby

Upper Darby is a township that was founded in 1655 and functions as a suburb of Philadelphia. Widely known attractions of Upper Darby include the Lower Swedish Cabin – thought to be the oldest building in the state and one of the oldest log cabins in the country – and famous music venue, Tower Theater. The township is the hometown of several famous individuals such as Jim Croce, Jamie Kennedy, and Tina Fey. Upper Darby is located in Delaware County and has a population of 82,795.

17.    Coolbaugh


Coolbaugh is home to more than 20,500 residents and is tucked away in Monroe County. Coolbaugh occupies 88 square miles and is the location of Tobyhanna State Park, where residents enjoy lying on the beach, fishing, canoeing, hiking, camping, and having picnics when weather permits.

18.    North Union

North Union PA

Photo credit: North Union

North Union is found in Fayette County and has a population of more than 12,700. The township was formed in 1851, and its northern portion is where the French and Indian War sparked nearly a century before its formation. The township is home to Penn State Fayette, which is a satellite campus of the Big Ten institution.

19.    Cranberry

Cranberry Township PA

Photo credit: Cranberry Township

Cranberry is a township that’s growing at one of the most rapid paces throughout the country in terms of population and business. Its location is largely attributed to the growth – it’s an intersection for Interstates 79 and 76, Pennsylvania Route 228, and U.S. Route 19, making the township reachable from just about every direction. Situated among 22.8 square miles of Butler County, Cranberry is home to more than 28,000 Pennsylvanians.

20.    Philadelphia

Closing out the top 20 most dangerous cities for severe weather in Pennsylvania is Philadelphia. With a population of more than 1.5 million, Philly is the largest city on the list. It’s nestled in Philadelphia County and was founded in 1682 at the confluence of the Delaware and Schuylkill rivers. Philadelphia is one of the most historically significant cities in the country as it was the meeting location for the Founding Fathers, as well as where the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution came to fruition. Philadelphia is the home of the Liberty Bell; the homes of Betsy Ross and Edgar Allen Poe; and educational institutions including La Salle University, Thomas Jefferson University, and the University of Pennsylvania.

21.    Hermitage

Hermitage is situated in Mercer County and has a population of more than 16,200. Hermitage was settled in 1796 and spans 29.6 square miles. The city was originally named Hickory, but by popular vote was changed to Hermitage effective January 1976. Hermitage was struck by the F5 tornado mentioned earlier as the strongest tornado to ever hit the state, which killed 18 residents of the city and injured another 310.

22.    Erie

Erie is named after the lake upon which it is located and the Native Americans that originally resided there. The city is the home of National Natural Landmark, Presque Isle State Park, which provides recreational activities year-round such as hiking, boating, and biking in the summer and ice fishing, cross-country skiing, and ice skating in the winter. Erie is located in the heart of Erie County and has more than 101,700 residents.

23.    Lebanon

Lebanon is positioned in Lebanon County with more than 25,400 residents. Lebanon – along with numerous other cities throughout the state – doesn’t buy into the normalcy of dropping a ball at New Year’s Eve festivities. Rather, the city drops a 150-pound hunk of Lebanon bologna and donates it to a local mission center after the event. This simple act allows Lebanon to keep its unique character and give back to its residents.

24.    Scranton

Scranton – found in Lackawanna County – has a population of more than 76,000. Just hearing the city’s name may trigger the theme song of the show The Office playing in your head as Scranton is the location of the fictional paper company, Dunder Mifflin. Scranton is called the Electric City because the countrys first electric-powered streetcars began operating in the city in 1886.

25.    Hampden

The final addition to our list of the most dangerous cities in Pennsylvania for severe weather is Hampden. Hampden is situated among 17.9 square miles of Cumberland County and provides a home for more than 28,000 residents. Hampden is the home of the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections headquarters and the Johannes Eberly House, a historic home that was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1973.

Whether you live in one of these 25 cities or not, it’s crucial to know the ins and outs of Pennsylvania home insurance in case your home is subjected to damage from severe weather.

For example, if a portion of your roof is torn off in a wind storm such as a tornado, your home insurance policy likely would cover the necessary repairs, up to your policy’s limits. However, if your home gets flooded during a severe thunderstorm, you likely won’t get any help correcting the damage unless you have a separate flood insurance policy.

Be aware of the threats that loom over your area of residence and know if you’d be covered by your home insurance in case disaster does strike. Discuss various situations with a licensed agent and adjust your policy to grant you peace of mind that your home, possessions, family, and finances will be protected no matter what situation may arise.

Following is a listing of the cities we studied, ranked from the most dangerous to the safest:

PA cities chart


Flood, Wind, Lightning and Hail scores are out of a possible 50 points where 0 is the best and 50 is the worst score.  For the flood, wind, lightning and hail scores, analysts reviewed all individual storm events identified by the NOAA Storm Events Database from 1965 to October 2014 and weighted scores as follows: # of storm event occurrences (30%), # of direct storm event related deaths (30%), # of direct storm event related injuries (25%) and # of direct storm related incidents of property damage (15%).

The flood score includes incidents of floods and flash floods. The wind score includes incidents of high wind, strong wind, thunderstorm wind and tornados. For data sources only available on a county level, cites were assigned points based on the information for the county in which the city is predominantly located. Analysts considered Pennsylvania cities (including townships, boroughs and other municipality types) with populations of 10,000.


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