What is a Tornado?
A tornado is a giant tube of air that spins violently, extending from the thunderstorm to the ground. The wind inside the tornado spins incredibly fast and is encapsulated in a massive circle of wind, which creates its tube-like shape.
Tornadoes are extremely dangerous and pretty much destroy everything they touch. They are particularly dangerous for people in cars or mobile homes, as they can be lifted right off the ground and thrown into nearby buildings, trees, etc.
While tornadoes can happen anywhere, nearly three-quarters of the world’s tornadoes occur in the United States. Therefore, the middle section of the USA is known as ‘Tornado Alley’ because of the number of tornadoes that have happened there.
Tornadoes typically have wind speeds of less than 110 miles per hour (180 km/h), are about 250 feet (80 m) wide, and tend to travel a few miles before disappearing completely. However, some intense tornadoes have been known to have wind speeds up to 300 miles per hour (480 km/h). The severity of tornadoes is measured using the Enhanced Fujita scale, from EF0 to EF5. EF0 is for tornados that cause minor damage, and EF5 is for the ones that cause the most damage.
Several weather phenomena are similar to tornadoes and are often mistaken for them. They include the gustnado, dust devil, fire whirls, steam devil, and downbursts.
Fujita Scale of Tornado Intensity
|Minimal damage: Branches may be broken off trees; minor roof damage to houses
|Moderate damage: Trees may be snapped in half; mobile home could be pushed off their foundations; roofs could be damaged
|Considerable damage: Mobile homes could be demolished; trees may be completely uprooted; even well-built homes may be unroofed
|Severe damage: Trains may be overturned; cars may be lifted clean off the ground; well-built homes could have their outside walls blown away
|Devastating damage: Houses may be leveled, leaving behind piles of debris; cars may be thrown 200 meters or more in the air
|Extreme damage: Well-built homes could be completely blown away, and missiles the size of cars could be thrown around
over 200 mph
Characteristics of Tornado
Tornadoes have a very distinctive look and have been depicted, most famously, in the film, The Wizard of Oz. The water droplets in the air make the spinning winds of a tornado visible. The visible tube of air is called a funnel cloud. A funnel cloud can be shaped like a cone, pillar, or tube. It can also range from only a few feet to hundreds of feet wide.
Once a tornado touches the ground, it travels around 28 miles (45 kilometers) per hour.
Here are some fun tornado facts for kids:
- The winds inside a tornado typically turn counterclockwise in the Northern Hemisphere and clockwise in the Southern Hemisphere.
- Tornadoes usually move from west to east.
- Generally speaking, tornadoes only last for two or three minutes.
- Strong tornadoes, however, can last for 15 minutes or longer.
How Does a Tornado Form?
Most tornadoes are the product of thunderstorms. They require a combination of warm, moist air and cold, dry air to form. When these two air masses collide, they create an unstable atmosphere. A change in wind direction and an increase in wind speed with increasing height creates an invisible, horizontal spinning effect in the lower atmosphere. Rising air within the updraft, the upward moving air within a thunderstorm, tilts the horizontal rotating air, making it vertical. At this point, an area of rotation around 2-6 miles wide extends through most of the storm. Within this area, of course, the most intense and violent tornadoes form.
Tornado Facts for Kids
Tornadoes are fascinating, complex weather phenomena whose unpredictable nature makes it difficult for even the best scientists to understand fully. Enjoy these tornado facts for kids, which give an insight into this fantastic form of extreme weather:
- Tornadoes reach from the ground to a cloud above.
- Tornadoes are sometimes called twisters.
- Some tornadoes are invisible, but their high wind speeds and fast rotation often form a visible funnel of condensed water.
- Most tornadoes are only able to travel a few miles before dying out.
- Intense tornadoes can sometimes travel over 100 miles (161kilometres).
- In 1925, what is known as the Tristate Tornado traveled through parts of Missouri, Illinois, and Indiana in the United States. It left behind a destruction path over 219 (352 kilometers) long.
- The Tristate Tornado was the deadliest in US history. It killed 695 people.
- In the USA, there is an average of around 1200 tornadoes yearly, more than any other country in the world.
- Most of these 1200 tornadoes occur in ‘Tornado Alley.’
- There has been a tornado in every state in the United States.
- The states in the USA that are most frequently hit by tornadoes are Texas, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Florida.
- The deadliest tornado recorded in 1989 was in Bangladesh and killed around 1300 people.
- Tornadoes that happen over water are often known as waterspouts.
- Weather radars detect tornadoes and warn people that they are coming.
- The safest place to be during a tornado is underground. This is why people often go into basements.
- During a tornado, it is essential to avoid windows as the glass will likely shatter.
- Scientists don’t fully understand how tornadoes are formed.