Tornadoes command awe and respect in the deadly power they can exert and the shocking consequences that result from their presence. With the potential to create vortexes and muster winds of speeds greater than 200 miles per hour they are a force to be reckoned with.
How do Tornadoes Form?
Tornadoes are most commonly formed as a result of powerful thunderstorms called supercells. You need the right conditions for these behemoths of nature to occur. Both a combination of wet and warm air and dry and cool air are needed to come together to create these conditions. When these conflicting air fronts of warm and cold reach each other the result can be the creation of an unstable and unpredictable atmosphere. Tornadoes form as a result of these conditions.
Warm dry air rises in combination with condensation. The process of condensation releases heat. This release of heat increases the amount of rising warm updrafts. The larger the cloud becomes, the more powerful the updrafts. The warm and moist climbing air currents can move rapidly and begin altering direction and feed the cloud. In turn, a tornado can later feed off of the moisture in the cloud once fully formed.
Vortexes can occur in the storm pulling the warm air currents upwards creating what is known as a mesocyclone. Cool dry air will then begin to fall downwards and twist around the mesocyclone, pulling it towards the earth. You now have two very different environments, a warm and wet tunnel of air inside the mesocyclone going up and cool dry air flowing down, this unstable environment is perfect for the creation of tornadoes.
When the mesocyclones lower body becomes thinner the wind speeds in the lower section increases dramatically. As soon as mesocyclone manages to reach down and makes contact with the vast moist cloud base that has been feeding the storm it will pull this up into the main body and create a tornado.
How to tell if a Tornado might be heading your way:
Stay vigilant and listen to weather announcements and warnings. Science is getting better at detecting weather patterns and spotting tornados but sometimes weather can be unpredictable.
If you can see a storm cloud heading your way and you might be able to spot significant changes in the cloud formation that are good indicators of the onset of a tornado.
Low sitting frayed spiraling bands of cumulus clouds that are extending out from the main storm body. A descending wall of cloud that is moving down out of the main cloud body
Low hanging flat clouds attached to the main base of the cloud, watch out for rotation.
Rear flank downdrafts are an area of descending air wrapping around the main circulating cloud base. A mesocyclone forming, these condensation funnels are a telltale sign of an impending tornado.