According to NOAA, a tornado is “a narrow, violently rotating column of air that extends from the base of a thunderstorm to the ground. Because wind is invisible, it is hard to see a tornado unless it forms a condensation funnel made up of water droplets, dust and debris. Tornadoes are the most violent of all atmospheric storms.”
They occur in many different parts of the world, including the United States, Australia, Europe, Africa, Asia and South America. In fact, the highest concentration of tornadoes outside the U.S. are in Argentina and Bangladesh!
For information on what to do before, during and after a tornado, click here.
About 1,200 tornadoes occur in the U.S. each year (the highest number of occurrences in the world), with the majority taking place in ‘tornado alley’ — a broad area of high tornado activity in central U.S. — but it’s important to note that violent tornadoes do happen outside of this high-risk zone.
Tornadoes are most likely to occur during ‘tornado season’ and NOAA states, “the peak tornado season for the Southern Plains is during May into early June. On the Gulf Coast, it is earlier during the spring. In the northern plains and upper Midwest, tornado season is in June or July. But, remember, tornadoes can happen at any time of year. Tornadoes can also happen at any time of day or night, but most tornadoes occur between 4–9 p.m.”
Although it’s not fully understood exactly how tornadoes form (yet), we do know that the most destructive and deadly tornadoes occur from supercells, which are rotating thunderstorms with a well-defined radar circulation called a mesocyclone. Tornado formation is believed to be controlled by things which happen in and around the mesocyclone.
- Most tornadoes form from severe thunderstorms. Hurricanes can also produce tornadoes.
- Tornado winds can exceed 300 miles (480 kilometers) per hour.
- Most tornadoes move at less than 35 miles per hour.
- Most tornadoes last only a few minutes.
- Waterspouts are tornadoes that form over a body of water.
- Tornado winds are the fastest winds on Earth.
- Every tornado has its own color, sound and shape.
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The WeatherBug – Earth Networks Team