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How Tornadoes Occur
By the RestorationSOS Educational Staff
Tornadoes are one of those weather conditions that occur rapidly, with more warning than earthquakes, but still not leaving much in the way of advanced notice.
Tornadoes may be measured on the scale of F1 through F5, with 5 being the strongest, and can easily leave behind a damage path more than a mile wide in some cases. The targets are as random as you can imagine, with one house being utterly destroyed while the next one doesn’t even get a scratch. It is a bizarre event to be sure and one that is not fully understood. Yet, we do have a basic understanding of what goes into the formation of the average tornado.
Tornadoes basically form when a certain set of weather conditions makes the environment ripe for such an event. Warm and humid air accompanied by strong southern winds lies near the ground below a layer of colder air and stronger winds from a western or southwestern direction. The moisture and temperature differences between the two layers create an area of instability which is necessary for tornado formation.
One of the results of this meeting of the two layers is known as wind shear, which is a change in speed and direction of wind, eventually resulting in the development of rotation from which tornadoes commonly form.
Tornadoes are often formed in advance of rapidly developing thunderstorms, known as supercells. When the air becomes warm and moist then collides with colder dryer air, again, the area of instability is created, producing high winds, large hail, and tornadoes. Tornadoes may also accompany the arrival of tropical storms and hurricanes.
Due to the instability of the atmosphere in the cases where thunderstorm occur, it is not at all uncommon for tornadoes to form, fall apart, and then reform several times, often hop-scotching across the landscape and causing damage wherever it happens to touch down. Tornadoes fed by a stronger supply of warm, moist air, may remain on the ground longer, traveling for a number of miles and leaving a well-defined damage zone in its wake.
Most tornadoes that occur in the early spring are the result of strong weather conditions created in the central states which move slowly eastward. These weather patterns usually result in tornado activity monitored across several states simultaneously.
The warning time for tornadoes is brief, usually around 15 minutes. Ever-changing technology and satellite imagery are producing more clear cut data on storm formation and many forecasters hope to be able to increase warning times of up to a half hour within the next year or so.
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