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    Tornado Experiments

    Tornado Background Information


    A tornado is a violent, dangerous, rotating column of air which is in contact with both the surface of the earth and a cumulonimbus cloud or, in rare cases, the base of a cumulus cloud.


    A tornado is a tube of spinning air that touches the ground. Wind inside the tornado spins very fast. This makes tornadoes very dangerous.

    Tornadoes mostly happen during very strong thunderstorms called supercell storms. They cause a lot of damage to anything they touch. In the last 3 years 273 people have been killed by tornadoes. Tornadoes are ranked on the Fujita scale, from F0 to F5. F0 has the lowest wind speed, and F5 has the highest wind speed.

    The United States of America has the most tornadoes every year, but tornadoes can happen in any country. If a tornado is coming, the safest thing to do is go to a basement or a bathroom with no windows. People should never be in a car or a mobile home when there is a tornado near.


    A tornado is defined by the Glossary of Meteorology as "a violently rotating column of air, in contact with the ground, either pendant from a cumuliform cloud or underneath a cumuliform cloud, and often (but not always) visible as a funnel cloud..."

    Condensation funnel: A tornado is not necessarily visible; however, the intense low pressure caused by the high wind speeds (Bernoulli's principle) and rapid rotation (due to cyclostrophic balance) usually causes water vapor in the air to condense into a visible condensation funnel. The tornado is the vortex of wind, not the condensation cloud. A funnel cloud is a visible condensation funnel with no associated strong winds at the surface. Not all funnel clouds evolve into a tornado. However, many tornadoes are preceded by a funnel cloud as the mesocyclonic rotation descends toward the ground. Most tornadoes produce strong winds at the surface while the visible funnel is still above the ground, so it is difficult to tell the difference between a funnel cloud and a tornado from a distance.

    Tornado family: Occasionally, a single storm produces multiple tornadoes and mesocyclones. This process is known as cyclic tornadogenesis. Tornadoes produced from the same storm are referred to as a tornado family. Sometimes multiple tornadoes from distinct mesocyclones occur simultaneously.

    Tornado outbreak: Occasionally, several tornadoes are spawned from the same large-scale storm system. If there is no break in activity, this is considered a tornado outbreak, although there are various definitions. A period of several successive days with tornado outbreaks in the same general area (spawned by multiple weather systems) is a tornado outbreak sequence, occasionally called an extended tornado outbreak. this page was written by Dylan J. Livengood.

    Fujita scale

    The Fujita scale, is a scale used for rating tornado strength, based on the damage tornadoes cause on human-built buildings and vegetation. The official Fujita scale category is determined by meteorologists (and engineers) after a ground and/or aerial damage inspection; also including analysis of available sources such as eyewitness accounts and damage images and/or videos.

      F0: Cannot possibly do any damage or kill people, but can make the power go out and be dangerous to small and light objects. (bugs, sticks, grass, stuffed animals, e.t.c.)
      F1: Probably the only thing an F1 Tornado can do is lift up a car without even damaging it and uproot trees.
      F2: Could rip apart a whole house like in the movie Twister.
      F3: Can cut the power cords, kill at least 5 people, and destroy about 8 houses in 40 seconds.
      F4: Damage to 10 houses a minute, trees uprooted.
      F5: Boy, the worst tornado ever, the raging F5! 100 Dog houses carried into the air in 5 seconds flat, trees falling over top of houses and houses devastated. If you stand even 2 feet from a tornado like this, you will of course die! BEWARE THE F5 TORNADO!!!

    Topics of Interest

    A tornado is a violent, dangerous, rotating column of air which is in contact with both the surface of the earth and a cumulonimbus cloud or, in rare cases, the base of a cumulus cloud. The most intense of all atmospheric phenomena, tornadoes come in many shapes and sizes but are typically in the form of a visible condensation funnel, whose narrow end touches the earth and is often encircled by a cloud of debris and dust. Most tornadoes have wind speeds between 40 mph (64 km/h) and 110 mph (177 km/h), are approximately 250 feet (75 m) across, and travel a few miles (several kilometers) before dissipating. The most extreme can attain wind speeds of more than 300 mph (480 km/h), stretch more than a mile (1.6 km) across, and stay on the ground for dozens of miles (more than 100 km).

    Various types of tornadoes include the landspout, multiple vortex tornado, and waterspout. Waterspouts have similar characteristics to tornadoes, characterized by a spiraling funnel-shaped wind current that form over bodies of water, connecting to large cumulus and thunderstorm clouds. Waterspouts are generally classified as non-supercellular tornadoes that develop over bodies of water. These spiraling columns of air frequently develop in tropical areas close to the equator, and are less common at high latitudes. Other tornado-like phenomena which exist in nature include the gustnado, dust devil, fire whirls, and steam devil.

    Tornadoes are detected through the use of Pulse-Doppler radar though the use of velocity data and reflectivity patterns such as a hook echo, as well as by the efforts of storm spotters. Tornadoes have been observed on every continent except Antarctica. However, the vast majority of tornadoes in the world occur in the Tornado Alley region of the United States, although they can occur nearly anywhere in North America. They also occasionally occur in south-central and eastern Asia, the Philippines, east-central South America, Southern Africa, northwestern and southeast Europe, western and southeastern Australia, and New Zealand.

    There are several different scales for rating the strength of tornadoes. The Fujita scale rates tornadoes by damage caused, and has been replaced in some countries by the updated Enhanced Fujita Scale. An F0 or EF0 tornado, the weakest category, damages trees but not substantial structures. An F5 or EF5 tornado, the strongest category, rips buildings off their foundations and can deform large skyscrapers. The similar TORRO scale ranges from a T0 for extremely weak tornadoes to T11 for the most powerful known tornadoes. Doppler radar data, photogrammetry, and ground swirl patterns (cycloidal marks) may also be analyzed to determine intensity and award a rating.

    Size and shape: Most tornadoes take on the appearance of a narrow funnel, a few hundred yards (meters) across, with a small cloud of debris near the ground. Tornadoes may be obscured completely by rain or dust. These tornadoes are especially dangerous, as even experienced meteorologists might not spot them. Tornadoes can appear in many shapes and sizes.

    Small, relatively weak landspouts may only be visible as a small swirl of dust on the ground. Although the condensation funnel may not extend all the way to the ground, if associated surface winds are greater than 40 mph (64 km/h), the circulation is considered a tornado. A tornado with a nearly cylindrical profile and relative low height is sometimes referred to as a "stovepipe" tornado. Large single-vortex tornadoes can look like large wedges stuck into the ground, and so are known as "wedge tornadoes" or "wedges". The "stovepipe" classification is also used for this type of tornado, if it otherwise fits that profile. A wedge can be so wide that it appears to be a block of dark clouds, wider than the distance from the cloud base to the ground. Even experienced storm observers may not be able to tell the difference between a low-hanging cloud and a wedge tornado from a distance. Many, but not all major tornadoes are wedges.

    Appearance: Tornadoes can have a wide range of colors, depending on the environment in which they form. Those which form in a dry environment can be nearly invisible, marked only by swirling debris at the base of the funnel. Condensation funnels which pick up little or no debris can be gray to white. While traveling over a body of water as a waterspout, they can turn very white or even blue. Funnels which move slowly, ingesting a lot of debris and dirt, are usually darker, taking on the color of debris. Tornadoes in the Great Plains can turn red because of the reddish tint of the soil, and tornadoes in mountainous areas can travel over snow-covered ground, turning white.

    Rotation: Tornadoes normally rotate cyclonically in direction (counterclockwise in the northern hemisphere, clockwise in the southern). While large-scale storms always rotate cyclonically due to the Coriolis effect, thunderstorms and tornadoes are so small that the direct influence of the Coriolis effect is unimportant, as indicated by their large Rossby numbers. Supercells and tornadoes rotate cyclonically in numerical simulations even when the Coriolis effect is neglected. Low-level mesocyclones and tornadoes owe their rotation to complex processes within the supercell and ambient environment.

    Sound and seismology: Tornadoes emit widely on the acoustics spectrum and the sounds are caused by multiple mechanisms. Various sounds of tornadoes have been reported throughout time, mostly related to familiar sounds for the witness and generally some variation of a whooshing roar. Popularly reported sounds include a freight train, rushing rapids or waterfall, a jet engine from close proximity, or combinations of these. Many tornadoes are not audible from much distance; the nature and propagation distance of the audible sound depends on atmospheric conditions and topography. The winds of the tornado vortex and of constituent turbulent eddies, as well as airflow interaction with the surface and debris, contribute to the sounds. Funnel clouds also produce sounds. Funnel clouds and small tornadoes are reported as whistling, whining, humming, or the buzzing of innumerable bees or electricity, or more or less harmonic, whereas many tornadoes are reported as a continuous, deep rumbling, or an irregular sound of "noise".

    Tornadoes also produce a detectable seismic signature, and research continues on isolating it and understanding the process.

    Tornadoes emit on the electromagnetic spectrum, with sferics and E-field effects detected. There are observed correlations between tornadoes and patterns of lightning. Tornadic storms do not contain more lightning than other storms and some tornadic cells never produce lightning. More often than not, overall cloud-to-ground (CG) lightning activity decreases as a tornado reaches the surface and returns to the baseline level when the tornado lifts. In many cases, intense tornadoes and thunderstorms exhibit an increased and anomalous dominance of positive polarity CG discharges. Electromagnetics and lightning have little or nothing to do directly with what drives tornadoes (tornadoes are basically a thermodynamic phenomenon), although there are likely connections with the storm and environment affecting both phenomena.

    Tornado climatology: The United States has the most tornadoes of any country, nearly four times more than estimated in all of Europe, excluding waterspouts. This is mostly due to the unique geography of the continent. North America is a large continent that extends from the tropics north into arctic areas, and has no major east-west mountain range to block air flow between these two areas. In the middle latitudes, where most tornadoes of the world occur, the Rocky Mountains block moisture and buckle the atmospheric flow, forcing drier air at mid-levels of the troposphere due to downsloped winds, and causing cyclogenesis downstream to the east of the mountains. Downsloped winds off the Rockies force the formation of a dry line when the flow aloft is strong, while the Gulf of Mexico fuels abundant low-level moisture. This unique topography allows for frequent collisions of warm and cold air, the conditions that breed strong, long-lived storms throughout the year. A large portion of these tornadoes form in an area of the central United States known as Tornado Alley. This area extends into Canada, particularly Ontario and the Prairie Provinces. Strong tornadoes also occur in northern Mexico.

    Associations to various climate and environmental trends exist. For example, an increase in the sea surface temperature of a source region (e.g. Gulf of Mexico and Mediterranean Sea) increases atmospheric moisture content. Increased moisture can fuel an increase in severe weather and tornado activity, particularly in the cool season.

    Detection: Rigorous attempts to warn of tornadoes began in the United States in the mid-20th century. Before the 1950s, the only method of detecting a tornado was by someone seeing it on the ground. Often, news of a tornado would reach a local weather office after the storm. However, with the advent of weather radar, areas near a local office could get advance warning of severe weather. The first public tornado warnings were issued in 1950 and the first tornado watches and convective outlooks in 1952. In 1953 it was confirmed that hook echoes are associated with tornadoes. By recognizing these radar signatures, meteorologists could detect thunderstorms probably producing tornadoes from dozens of miles away.

    Today, most developed countries have a network of weather radars, which remains the main method of detecting signatures probably associated with tornadoes. In the United States and a few other countries, Doppler weather radar stations are used. These devices measure the velocity and radial direction (towards or away from the radar) of the winds in a storm, and so can spot evidence of rotation in storms from more than a hundred miles (160 km) away. When storms are distant from a radar, only areas high within the storm are observed and the important areas below are not sampled. Data resolution also decreases with distance from the radar. Some meteorological situations leading to tornadogenesis are not readily detectable by radar and on occasion tornado development may occur more quickly than radar can complete a scan and send the batch of data. Also, most populated areas on Earth are now visible from the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites (GOES), which aid in the nowcasting of tornadic storms.

    The most extreme tornado in recorded history was the Tri-State Tornado, which roared through parts of Missouri, Illinois, and Indiana on March 18, 1925. It was likely an F5, though tornadoes were not ranked on any scale in that era. It holds records for longest path length (219 miles, 352 km), longest duration (about 3.5 hours), and fastest forward speed for a significant tornado (73 mph, 117 km/h) anywhere on Earth. In addition, it is the deadliest single tornado in United States history (695 dead). The tornado was also the second costliest tornado in history at the time, but in the years since has been surpassed by several others if population changes over time are not considered. When costs are normalized for wealth and inflation, it ranks third today. The deadliest tornado in world history was the Daultipur-Salturia Tornado in Bangladesh on April 26, 1989, which killed approximately 1300 people. Bangladesh has had at least 19 tornadoes in its history kill more than 100 people, almost half of the total in the rest of the world.

    Safety: Though tornadoes can strike in an instant, there are precautions and preventative measures that people can take to increase the chances of surviving a tornado. Authorities such as the Storm Prediction Center advise having a pre-determined plan should a tornado warning be issued. When a warning is issued, going to a basement or an interior first-floor room of a sturdy building greatly increases chances of survival. In tornado-prone areas, many buildings have storm cellars on the property. These underground refuges have saved thousands of lives. Some countries have meteorological agencies which distribute tornado forecasts and increase levels of alert of a possible tornado (such as tornado watches and warnings in the United States and Canada). Weather radios provide an alarm when a severe weather advisory is issued for the local area, though these are mainly available only in the United States. Unless the tornado is far away and highly visible, meteorologists advise that drivers park their vehicles far to the side of the road (so as not to block emergency traffic), and find a sturdy shelter. If no sturdy shelter is nearby, getting low in a ditch is the next best option. Highway overpasses are one of the worst places to take shelter during tornadoes, as they are believed to create a wind tunnel effect, increasing the danger from the tornado by increasing the wind speed and funneling debris underneath the overpass.

    Myths and misconceptions

    It is often thought that opening windows will lessen the damage caused by the tornado. While there is a large drop in atmospheric pressure inside a strong tornado, it is unlikely that the pressure drop would be enough to cause the house to explode. Some research indicates that opening windows may actually increase the severity of the tornado's damage. A violent tornado can destroy a house whether its windows are open or closed.

    Another commonly held belief is that highway overpasses provide adequate shelter from tornadoes. On the contrary, a highway overpass is a dangerous place during a tornado. In the 1999 Oklahoma tornado outbreak of May 3, 1999, three highway overpasses were directly struck by tornadoes, and at all three locations there was a fatality, along with many life-threatening injuries. The small area under the overpasses is believed to cause a wind tunnel effect. By comparison, during the same tornado outbreak, more than 2000 homes were completely destroyed, with another 7000 damaged, and yet only a few dozen people died in their homes.

    An old belief is that the southwest corner of a basement provides the most protection during a tornado. The safest place is the side or corner of an underground room opposite the tornado's direction of approach (usually the northeast corner), or the central-most room on the lowest floor. Taking shelter under a sturdy table, in a basement, or under a staircase further increases chances of survival.

    Finally, there are areas which people believe to be protected from tornadoes, whether by being in a city, near a major river, hill, or mountain, or even protected by supernatural forces. Tornadoes have been known to cross major rivers, climb mountains, affect valleys, and have damaged several city centers. As a general rule, no area is "safe" from tornadoes, though some areas are more susceptible than others.

    Source: Wikipedia (All text is available under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License and Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License.)

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