Tornadoes are rapidly spinning vertical funnels of air. Their winds can blow more than 250 miles per hour and leave a trail a mile wide and 50 miles long.
Tornadoes, also called twisters, occur during thunderstorms and are often accompanied by hail. Huge permanent thunderstorms, called supercells, produce the most destructive tornadoes.
These violent storms occur all over the world, but the United States is a major hotbed, with about 1,000 tornadoes per year.
The fiercest tornado to ever hit the United States was the Tri-State Tornado. It killed 695 people and injured 2,027 in 1925. The tornado was 219 miles long, making it the longest ever measured.
What is a tornado?
A tornado is a violently rotating column of air that extends from the thunderstorm to the ground. It is often announced by dark, greenish skies, dark thunderclouds approaching, and a storm as large as a baseball may develop.
The funnel rises abruptly, as if falling from a cloud. The funnel hits the ground and roars forward with a sound similar to that of an approaching freight train. The tornado destroys everything in its path.
Because wind is transparent, a tornado is difficult to see unless it forms a vortex of condensation caused by water droplets, dust and debris. A tornado can be one of the most devastating events of all atmospheric storms.
How does a tornado form?
The most extreme tornadoes arise from supercells, which are large thunderstorms that are already spinning. About one storm in a thousand becomes a supercell, and one in five or six supercells produces a tornado.
Photo by Espen Bjerud on Unsplash
Tornadoes can occur at any time of the year, but they are most common in early spring in the states along the Gulf of Mexico. The season follows the jet stream – the further north it moves, the more active tornadoes become. May tornadoes tend to be larger than other months, but April tornadoes are sometimes more intense.
Although they can occur at any time of the day or night, most tornadoes occur late in the evening. By this time, the sun has warmed the ground and atmosphere enough to cause thunderstorms.
A tornado occurs when warm, moist air meets cold, dry air.
Dense cold air feeds into warm air and usually creates storms. Warm air rises through cold air and creates updrafts. The updrafts begin to rotate when the winds differ in speed or direction.
As the rotating updraft, called a mesocycle, draws in more warm air from the moving storm, its rotation speed increases. The cold air brought in by the jet stream, a strong wind band in the atmosphere, provides even more energy.
Water droplets from the moist mesocyclone air form a funnel-shaped cloud. The funnel continues to grow and eventually descends from the cloud. When it hits the ground, it turns into a tornado.
How can you predict a tornado?
The first step in predicting the possible occurrence of tornadoes is to identify areas where conditions are favorable for the development of severe thunderstorms.
The main components of these storms are cold, dry air in the middle of the troposphere, covered by a layer of moist and possibly unstable air near the surface.
U.S. forecasters have learned to closely monitor wind patterns in unstable areas and measure changes in temperature and wind throughout the day as they track the movement and strength of the jet stream.
Meteorologists use Doppler radar, satellites, weather balloons and computer simulations to monitor severe storms and tornado activity in the sky.
Doppler radar records wind speed and detects eddies during thunderstorms. Since the use of Doppler radar, tornado warning times have increased from less than five minutes in the 1980s to an average of 13 minutes in the late 2000s.
When weather conditions are conducive to tornadoes, the National Weather Service issues a tornado warning. When a tornado is observed or indicated on radar, a tornado warning is issued.
How do you survive a tornado?
Knowing what to do if you see a tornado or hear a tornado warning can help protect yourself and your family. During a tornado, people are exposed to strong winds and risk being hit by flying or falling objects.
Debris left behind after a tornado indicates an additional risk of damage. While there is nothing you can do to prevent a tornado, there are steps you can take to protect your health and safety.
Tips for surviving a tornado
- Make a family plan in case of a tornado and know where it is safe to take shelter.
- Keep an eye on NOAA weather radio.
- Install a tornado or storm shelter built in accordance with FEMA 320. Always use an approved shelter in, near or outside your home.
- Seek shelter in a certified and approved shelter, safe room or public shelter recognized as an official tornado shelter. Public shelters can be stores, malls, churches and even airports.
- If there is no shelter:
- Inside – go to the first floor, a small central room, under the stairs, or an interior corridor without windows. Squat as low as possible on the floor, face down and cover your head with your hands. Cover yourself with a mattress, blanket, helmet, or other compact blanket.
- Mobile home – boarding. Even if your home is attached, it is not as safe as a solid building. Go to the nearest solid structure. Do not take shelter under a curb, bridge or sewer. If you cannot get out safely, park your vehicle outside your lane. Stay in the car with your seat belt on. Put your head under the windows and protect it with your arms and a blanket or pillow.
- Outside – a shelter in a permanent building. If there is no shelter, lie face down on the ground and protect the back of your head with your hands.
- Keep the family together in a safe place and wait for emergency services to arrive.
- Stay away from power lines, fallen trees and puddles where electrical wires may be hidden.
- Be careful and avoid sharp objects.
- Stay away from heavily damaged structures as they may collapse.
- Do not use matches or lighters if the natural gas or tank is leaking.
- Listen to the radio for information and instructions.
Photo by Mick Haupta on Unsplash
Tornado Survival Kits
Since tornadoes can develop quickly after a thunderstorm, it is important to always be prepared. Prepare for tornadoes by investing in a tornado preparedness kit.
Basic tools for disaster survival:
- Long-term storage of foodstuffs
- Respiratory protection
- emergency care
- Sanitation and Hygiene
For safety and protection:
- N-95 respiratory masks (face masks)
- Thermal emergency blankets
- Emergency ponchos
- Plastic films on rolls
- Roll of adhesive tape
To disable utilities and other tasks :
For communication and light:
- Metal tubes with belt
- AM/FM radio with two batteries
- Flashlight with two sets of batteries
- 12 hours glow bars
- Safety LED signal
- Waterproof document bag
To moisturize and nourish:
- 2-gallon water bag for drinking and hygiene
- Water bags for emergencies
- Water purification tablets
- Food (at least three days of non-perishable food)
- Paper cups, plates, paper napkins and plastic plates
For medical, hygienic and sanitary purposes:
- Personal first aid kit
- Medicine cabinet
- Biod hazardous bags
- toilet roll
- Wet wipes
- Ladies Accessories
Tornado damage can occur within seconds. They often result in the loss of life and the destruction of homes, businesses and entire neighborhoods.
Although the strongest tornadoes can destroy and demolish almost any home and everything in it, extremely strong tornadoes are rare. Most tornadoes are much weaker. You can survive a tornado if you take precautions.
Frequently asked questions
What should you put in your tornado survival kit?
Assembly kit. ready.gov
What are the tips for surviving a tornado?
Staying safe in a tornado – CDC.
Can you survive a tornado?
If they had managed to avoid being hit by the debris (and that’s a big “if”), they would have hit the ground hard and probably not survived the impact. Here’s how. Getting sucked up by a tornado would probably have resulted in death. … Some people are lucky to have survived, but most die.
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