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Weather and Climate

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TornadoesBy: Matthew B.Science 3/4McCormick

A tornado is a rotating column of violent air. It extends from a thunderstorm to the ground. With winds ranging from 40 to over 300 mph, this severe weather can be a true destructive force of nature.Tornadoes form when warm, most air from the south and cool, dry air from the north meet. This instability in the atmosphere causes a thunderstorm, usually a supercell. As the rotating wind that forms around the storm gets stronger, the winds get faster to start a tornado that reaches from the sky to the ground.Tornadoes occur most often in the Mid-West of the United States in a place called Tornado Alley. Tornado Alley consists of the states of Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota, North Dakota, Iowa, Missouri, Arkansas and Louisiana. They can happen any time of the year, but usually occur in the summer for northern states and March-May for southern states.

Scientists use special radar to scan the sky for severe weather. An organization called the NSSL has recently come up with dual-polarization radar. This device scans the sky in less than a minute for tornadoes, which is 5 times faster than most other radars.Scientists use the Fujita Scale to measure the intensity of tornadoes. This scale is measured in F’s that can go from F0 to F5. The higher the number, the more severe the tornado.Severity of tornadoes depends on its location on the Fujita Scale. Intensity can go from branches being broken off trees (F0) to well-built houses and buildings being completely blown away (F5). The chart above gives a better description of what each F is like.How tornadoes lose power and pass away remains a big mystery to scientists. It seems that these whirlwinds spin around so fast that those studying them get too dizzy to find new information. All we can do is keep waiting for scientists to find an answer to this question.

What, Where, and Why?

You should always live in preparation of a tornado, and here are a few tips on how to do that. Always have a disaster plan in which you know where you will go in the case of a tornado. If one hits, you should take your disaster kit and go to an inner room of your house with no windows (if you have a basement, go there).You should always be prepared for a tornado, and that means that you need to have a survival kit. You should have enough food and water for at least 3 days in case you’re trapped, in addition to a flashlight and extra batteries. You should also pack a charged phone to call for help and a First Aid Kit in case someone is hurt.

Survival Tips

Fun Facts1. Waterspouts are weak tornadoes that form over water.2. Funnel clouds are often confused with tornadoes. They are essentially tornadoes that do not touch the ground, which keeps them from the title.3. Wall clouds are usually preludes to severe weather like tornadoes or funnel clouds.4. Abundant low-level moisture is needed for a tornado, waterspout, or funnel cloud to form.5. The United States has more tornadoes than anywhere else in the world.

Fujita Scale

Click to find more information at

Click on either picture to find out more about tornadoes at the NSSL or Web Weatherwebsites.

Radar and Intensity


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