Understanding tornados is not just for the storm-chasers that bring us incredible footage from the front lines of deadly twisters. We are all affected by tornados at some time or another, and knowing more about the science of tornados can help all of us - even if it is only to empathize with those tragically affected by the destruction these unpredictable storms leave behind.
In simple terms, tornados are formed during severe weather cycles that combine thunderstorms, colliding air masses (or fronts), a combination of cold and warm air, and high and low pressure changes.
When two or more moving air masses (cold or warm fronts) collide, strong weather will develop. Rain and hail are commonplace in a thunderstorm, but when the pressure and temperature changes are significant, high winds are concentrated and accelerated, and often result in a tornado.
As the colliding fronts intensify, specific regions of thunderstorms will develop a mesocyclone high up in the atmosphere. This massive rotation can be anywhere from a couple miles wide, to as much as 10 miles in diameter. This giant system is the tornado.
One interesting theory with mesocyclones is that the rapid changes in wind speed, and wind shear from rising warm air drawn up in to the mesocyclone system, cause horizontal tube-like vortexes to form within a severe thunderstorm. As the warm updraft continues, the tube-like vortex gradually turns vertical. As it becomes upright, the separation between the rising warm air and surrounding cold air concentrates, resulting in faster, more destructive wind speeds. This is also why we will often see intense hail storms surrounding a tornado. The cold air drops quickly, and the moisture condenses in to an ice storm - which becomes a tell-tale sign that a tornado is imminent.
Experimentation with miniature tornado models can help us to understand further what is happening when these unpredictable storms strike.Making a miniature tornado combines simple supplies from your hardware store and uses them to simulate and create a beautiful vortex that you can modify and manipulate as long as you keep your dry ice stocked!
A basic vent-fan acts as the mesocyclone, creating the rotation needed to make the miniature tornado. Then a pie tin or small pan at the base of the chamber holds hot water (replenished often), which represents warm surface temperatures. When dry ice is placed in the tin, or the hot water replenished over the dry ice, we can clearly see the varying effects of the rising warm air combined with the rotation of the vortex.
By manipulating the speed of the fan, the amount of dry ice, the temperature of the water, and the amount of air allowed in to the chamber, we can observe changes in the intensity, structure, and stability of our simulated tornado. Perhaps with these small changes and observations we can help our children understand more the elements that affect tornados, and the deadly weather we have seen recently.
A common myth is that you don’t have to worry about tornados if you live in a relatively low risk area. That is false. You should always be on guard and prepared to protect your family. Tornado preparedness is not just for those in Tornado Alley. Most states will have tornados touch down in a lifetime.
Knowing what to do before, during and after a tornado is a critical part of being prepared and may make all the difference when seconds count.
Take a look at the basic measures you should take during a tornado:
Tornados are nature’s most violent storms. Created from powerful thunderstorms, tornados can cause deaths and injuries as well as devastate a neighborhood in seconds. A tornado appears as a rotating, funnel-shaped cloud that extends from a thunderstorm to the ground with whirling winds that can reach 300 miles per hour.
Damage paths can be in excess of one mile wide and 50 miles long. Every state is at some risk from this hazard. Some tornados are clearly visible, while rain or nearby low-hanging clouds obscure others. Occasionally, tornados develop so rapidly that little, if any, advance warning is possible.
Before a tornado hits, the wind may die down and the air may become very still. A cloud of debris can mark the location of a tornado even if a funnel is not visible. Tornados generally occur near the trailing edge of a thunderstorm. It is not uncommon to see clear, sunlit skies behind a tornado.
The most important thing to remember is if you see approaching storms or any of the danger signs, be prepared to take shelter immediately.
If disaster strikes, you may not have any other choice than to turn to your community or government. We have compiled a list of disaster recovery resources that can help you on your journey of getting your life back in order after a disaster like a tornado.
Your number one concern is the safety of your family, so in order to be prepared for an emergency or storm, request more information about our storm shelters – we are here to help.
Before a severe storm hits, we suggest assembling a disaster supply kit that contains the following:
What are you waiting for? Start protecting your family by assembling your disaster supply kit today! If you have any questions, feel free to contact us.
If you find someone who is injured, administer first aid as best you can and seek medical attention for them. Below are some emergency first aid tips:
If you have any questions, or would like more information about our storm shelters, contact us!
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