Tornadoes are thunderstorms that create violent air-to-ground force. They are capable of massive destruction, destroying houses, uprooting huge trees, making shambles of large buildings, and swirling vehicles into the air. Annually, the United States averages 1,200 tornadoes. They produce an average of 65 fatalities and over 1,500 injuries per year. The loss of property is estimated in the millions.
Tornadoes can hit a revolving wind speed of 200 miles per hour and average 30 miles per hour of forward momentum. However, they can also remain stationary or accelerate to 70 mph, obliterating everything in their paths. How do these enormous energy waves from Mother Nature originate?
Thunderstorms form tornadoes. According to Weather Wiz, the ingredients needed are warm, moist air from the Gulf of Mexico and cool, dry air from Canada. When these two elements meet, they create an unstable atmosphere. As a result, a change in wind direction mixed with the increase of wind speeds creates an invisible effect in the atmosphere.
Then, the rising air from the ground is pushed up and forms swirling air. The swirling air itself starts to suck up warm air from the ground. Next, the spinning funnel grows longer and is stretched, elongating toward the ground. Finally, the funnel may reach and travel along the ground, and it is not technically called a tornado.
Besides thunderstorms, tornadoes are also started by funnel clouds. These are turning columns of air shaped like a funnel or cone. They extend downward from a thunderstorm’s base and do not touch the ground. When the funnel cloud touches the ground, it is called a tornado.
Like other natural disasters, tornadoes develop, climax, and die. Proactive preparation is the best we can do when they come our way. This means having an escape route out of the area, or hiding in a basement, a bathroom, or other safe room.
Unlike thunderstorms and funnel clouds, tornadoes are formed by winds. When it comes to forming tornadoes, winds occur when the air begins to spin, blowing from different directions. According to UCAR, the air immediately begins to rise and is pushed by the wind. Next, the air continues to rise and is pushed again by the shifting winds.
Finally, the wind is moving at different speeds, directions, and altitudes, which causes the air to spin at a rapid rate. Therefore, even though thunderstorms and funnel clouds contribute to forming tornadoes, the winds are a huge factor. The wind itself allows the tornado to swirl around in circles. As a result, this can create an enormous tornado, depending on the width.
Although thunderstorms, funnel clouds, and winds contribute to how a tornado is formed, there are also supercells. According to UCAR, supercells are one of the strongest types of a thunderstorm as the air rises while spinning. However, the revolving air does not form a tornado. In order for a tornado to be formed, the rotating air needs to be near the ground so the tornado can balance itself, like a child’s toy top. This event occurs when the air inside the storm goes straight to the ground, and the storm spreads out like gusts.
Multiple atmospheric elements come together to form a tornado. Thunderstorms, funnel clouds, rapid winds, and supercells collaborate to generate a mass of circling air. Lastly, they assume their rightful position of balance by touching the ground. Like a domino effect, if one of these elements were missing, there would not be a tornado. This violent and devastating force of nature is one that must be respected.