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Science Behind Tornadoes

Dr. Abhinandan Bhardwaj PhD


Tornadoes are violent windstorms characterized by a twisting, funnel-shaped cloud. Tornado is a small-diameter column of violently rotating air developed within a convective cloud and in contact with the ground. Tornadoes occur most often in association with thunderstorms during the spring and summer in the mid-latitudes of both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres. These whirling atmospheric vortices can generate the strongest winds known on Earth: wind speeds in the range of 500 km (300 miles) per hour have been estimated. When winds of this magnitude strike a populated area, they can cause deadly destruction and great loss of life, mainly through injuries from flying debris and collapsing structures. Most tornadoes, however, are comparatively weak events that occur in sparsely populated areas and cause minor damage.

Watch Tornado Video





How Tornado forms

Before thunderstorms develop, 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 thunderstorm updraft tilts the rotating air from horizontal to vertical.

 A tornado usually begins in a severe thunderstorm called a supercell. The same property that keeps the storm going also produces most tornadoes. The wind coming into the storm starts to swirl and forms a funnel. The air in the funnel spins faster and faster and creates a very low pressure area which sucks more air into it as tornado grows in size.

Warning signs include:

Severe thunderstorms, with frequent thunder and lightning.
An extremely dark sky, sometimes highlighted by green or yellow clouds.
A rumbling sound, such as a freight train might make, or a whistling sound such as a jet aircraft might make. A funnel cloud at the rear base of a thundercloud, often behind a curtain of heavy rain or hail.
May to September are prime tornado months. Tornadoes usually hit in the afternoon and early evening but they have been known to strike at night too.

What to do Before a Tornado
Be alert to the weather conditions and frequently check weather stations for updates.
Look for approaching storms.

Look for the following danger signs:

  • Dark, often greenish sky.
  • Large hail
  • A large, dark, low-lying cloud (particularly if rotating)
  • Loud roar, similar to a freight train.
  • If you see approaching storms or any of the danger signs, be prepared to take shelter immediately.

For more info on how to save yourself from tornadoes read Tornado Tips

  Learn about Tornadoes Watch Video





Tornado Tips
Learn about what needs to be done when a tornado strikes.

Dr. Abhinandan Bhardwaj PhD


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