Weather Academy: Tornado Formation

Published: Feb. 21, 2022 at 5:59 AM CST
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MONROE, La. (KNOE) - We are continuing our topic of severe weather today and will be learning all about tornado formation. By definition, a tornado is a rapidly rotating column of air. Tornadoes only form when a supercell thunderstorm has a very specific combination of winds.

When winds in the upper level of the atmosphere are blowing faster than winds at the surface, we see a horizontal rotating column of air. When thunderstorms start to develop, warm air will begin to rise to create an updraft in the thunderstorm. Rising air is a key ingredient for tornadoes. As the air climbs, it can start to change direction and become faster. This could lead to our rotating column of air being turned vertically. As this rotating air column drifts below the cloud base, we see a wall cloud form. As the winds start to spin faster, we begin to see a large rotating column of clouds dropping lower and lower. This is called a funnel cloud. If the funnel cloud reaches the ground, it is a tornado.

The strength of a tornado is based on the enhanced Fujita scale. The scale ranges from EF0 to EF5. EF0s are on the weaker end of the scale, causing minimal damage like taking the singles off a roof and downing power lines. An EF1 will cause moderate damage with winds ranging from 85 to 110 MPH, and then an EF2 has winds up to 135 MPH, strong enough to uproot trees. EF3s cause severe damage with winds ranging from 136-165 MPH, capable of removing walls from buildings. An EF 4 is a violent tornado with winds from 166 to 200 MPH that cause devasting damage, powerful enough to destroy the framing of houses. By the time we reach an EF 5 tornado with winds over 200 MPH that is strong enough to completely demolish a house and sweep it off of its foundation.

This is why it’s important to know your tornado safe place at school, work, and home. The absolute safest place to be is in the basement, but I know many homes in our area don’t have basements. So instead, find the innermost room in a building, typically hallways and closets or the bathroom. You want to avoid windows and outside walls if possible. You’ll also want to make sure you cover and protect your head with a pillow or even a mattress if possible.

Make sure you tune in next week as Sheena and I experiment to illustrate better how tornadoes form.

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