15 Astonishing Tornado Pictures
A tornado is a rotating column of air that extends from storm clouds to the ground, many times actually touching the land (or water) below. Tornadoes are extremely violent storms with high wind speeds that reach up to 300 miles per hour! These high wind speeds can cause a large amount of damage to trees, vehicles, and even large buildings!
High wind speeds, matched with rain and lightning is a bad mix! In fact, this can wreak havoc on neighborhoods and even entire towns! I live in the northern section of tornado alley where only a handful of tornadoes occur. One of my earliest memories is that of standing in the yard with my mother watching a perfectly formed tornado looming over distant fields.
The above tornado occurred in June of 2007 in Elie, Manitoba and is Canada's first known F5 tornado. The storm was initially estimated at an F4, but was later upgraded to an F5, making it the most powerful tornado in Canada's history.
The Seymour, Texas tornado tore through the countryside uprooting trees, pulling up utility poles, and ripping apart small structures, but this funnel was only rated as an F2. The supercell wasn't done when it left Seymour, though! This storm formed another, considerably larger tornado that devastated Witchita Falls in under an hour!
Most tornadoes occur in North America on a big chunk of land known as Tornado Alley. Tornado Alley is made up of the Great Plains, a flat area that stretches from the Rockies to the Appalachian Mountains.
The weather conditions and flat landscapes of Oklahoma, Kansas, and Northern Texas are perfect for creating funnel clouds, so these states see an enormous amount of tornadoes compared to other states.
Waterspout (Water Tornadoes)
There are two types of waterspouts. The most common type are not related to land-based tornadoes (no supercell updraft.) These columns of water are known as fair-weather waterspouts. Fair-weather waterspouts are very weak and usually last less than 20 seconds.
The second type of waterspout is called a tornadic waterspout. These are almost exactly the same as a land-based tornado. The only differences are that they occur over water and are generally weaker than their land-based counterparts.
An occluded tornado is one that is "old" and is starting to dissipate. Dissipating tornadoes often form a rope-like tube before scattering. The storm can create another cyclone. In fact, many storms have been known to create multiple cyclones!
We're not in Kansas anymore:
Tornadoes have occurred in every US state (including Hawaii and Alaska) and on every continent except Antarctica.
The Fujita Scale, How Tornadoes are Rated
Tornadoes are graded on the Fujita (or F) scale. The scale goes from F0 (weakest) to F5 (strongest.) An F0 cyclone tops off at around 72 miles per hour. Winds this sped can damage small trees and knock down branches. Just under 40% of tornadoes rate as an F0.
F1 tornadoes reach hurricane wind speeds, topping off at 112 miles per hour. Even though the rating of F1 sounds weak, these cyclones can blow a mobile home off its foundation and push cars around. Just over 35% of cyclones reach F1 speeds.
An F2 tornado is where things really start to get ugly. Topping off at speeds of 157 miles per hour, these cyclones can rip roofing off of homes, push over boxcars, and uproot large trees. Just under 20% of storms are classified as an F2.
F3 tornadoes are the ones where you're going to want to tunnel underground (think your basement.) Winds reaching speeds of just over 200 miles per hour are strong enough to twist up a skyscraper or uproot an entire forest!
An F4 tornado is really just a stepping stone between an F3 and an F5. It does SERIOUS damage. This is where you're hoping your basement has a basement! Fortunately, only 1.1% of tornadoes are classified as an F4. At wind speeds of up to 260 miles per hour, this storm can use a heavy car as a projectile!
The tornado we witnessed, the Petersburg cyclone, was rated as an F4 and claimed six lives.
An F5 cyclone can reach speeds of over 300 miles per hour. This is NOT a storm you want to get caught up in. Winds this speed can uproot well-built homes and even seriously damage concrete and steel structures. Fortunately, tornadoes this strong are rare. Less than 0.1% of tornadoes are classified as an F5.
A storm that creates six or more tornadoes is called a tornado outbreak. I witnessed the June 1990 Lower Ohio Valley tornado outbreak. Indiana experienced 37 tornadoes during this storm beating the 1974 record for the most tornadoes in one day. The 1990 record still stands.
More by this Author
A guide to glaciers: the conditions necessary for glacier formation, how they're formed, their movement and anatomy, and where glaciers are located.
A handy guide for identifying various types of clouds including information on what makes clouds look different, which are responsible for storms, and how some clouds can help in predicting weather.
Easy-to-use home remedies for dealing with just about any clog. The do-it-yourself guide to fixing a clogged drain with household products.