Severe Weather Guide: Tornado Formation and Safety

Weather

Remember a tornado is a destructive vortex of air, clouds, and debris that is on the ground.

In order to form you need a combination of moisture, lift, and spin. Typically strong upper-level winds (shear) provide lift along with surface heating. The difference in the winds also creates a rotation in the horizontal.

When a rising updraft of air forms it bends that rotation into the vertical. As the storm spins, a smaller piece of the storm will drop down out of the clouds from a base or wall cloud. The smaller cloud focuses that spin on a small area. This cloud is called a funnel cloud if it stays in the air. Once it reaches the ground it becomes a tornado. Then the winds can cause destruction.

Winds in a tornado can range from 65 mph (EF-0) up to over 200mph (EF-5). These powerful winds can do damage to trees, homes, and other structures. Wind speeds are determined by the National Weather Service. They will do a survey (if needed) over a damaged area.

They will closely look at different clues from the debris to determine how fast the winds were. They also use the estimated wind speeds from the radar to piece together the tornado’s path, history, and max winds.

If you are home and there is a tornado warning, then get to the lowest floor of your home. Go to a room that is away from the outer walls. A bathroom is best. Especially if you have a sturdy bathtub. However, a closet or utility room is also a good place.

Meteorologist: Jeremy Wheeler

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