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My Tornado Research Report

By: AETHOMAS , 10:00 PM GMT on February 06, 2013

Tornadoes: Masters of the Air

Grapefruit-sized hail pounds on the roof and you wake up from your afternoon nap. You dash to the window and you see a wall cloud dropping from the base of the storm… Almost immediately, the tornado sirens start blaring, and you shout to everyone “Get to the storm cellar ASAP!” You throw open the front door and race outside, dodging the hail. You pry open the door to the cellar open and everyone climbs inside, just in time for you to turn your head…to see the one thing that scares you the most, a huge tornado, at least a mile wide. You duck into the cellar just in time for the tornado to strike with its deadly force. While you wait in the storm cellar, you hear the tornado passing right over you. As suddenly as it started, it is soon over. The sirens sound the “OK” signal and you step out of the cellar to…nothing but a pile of rubble. Tornadoes are perhaps the most deadly things that nature can produce.
So, what exactly are these powerful, destructive whirlwinds? How do they form? How do you know if one is coming? Who studies them? What was the largest, most deadly tornado outbreak? Let’s find out…

How are tornadoes formed? First, even before the thunderstorm develops, a change in wind direction and an increase in wind speed with increasing height creates an invisible, horizontal spinning effect in the lower atmosphere. Next, rising air within the thunderstorm updraft tilts the rotating air from horizontal to vertical. Finally, an area of rotation, 2-6 miles wide, now extends through much of the storm. Most strong and violent tornadoes form within this area of strong rotation. (NOAA, 13-15)

Sure, we know how they are formed, but what are they by definition? Anyone could say that they are rapidly rotating columns of air and debris, but that isn’t quite right. The technical definition of a tornado is a rotating column of air attached to or beneath a cumuliform cloud and is in contact with the ground. (Passante & Bologa, 60) As far as the debris is concerned, it is picked up after the tornado hits the ground. Pieces of homes, cars, basically anything can be debris in a tornado. Yes, even cows are picked up by tornadoes. Even with this, how are tornadoes measured?

Tornadoes are measured using the Fujita scale, created by Tetsuya Theodore “Ted” Fujita in 1971. Fujita, a Japanese – American meteorologist, developed the scale in order to rate tornado damage. The scale differentiates tornado intensity and links tornado damage with wind speed. (Ted Fujita, 3) The scale rates tornadoes from F0-F5. F0’s are the weakest, only producing light damage, which includes damage to chimneys, branches broken off trees, shallow-rooted trees pushed over, and sign boards damaged. In an F0, the wind speed is estimated to be less than 73 miles per hour (mph). (NOAA, 3) As we go up the scale, the winds get stronger, and there is more damage to the area affected.

F1’s are a tiny bit stronger than F0’s, but they produce more damage. F1’s produce moderate damage, which includes peeling the surface off roofs, mobile homes pushed off their foundations, and moving automobiles are blown off the road. (NOAA, 4) Wind speeds are estimated to be 73-112 mph in an F1.

F0’s and F1’s are considered weak tornadoes because they don’t produce a lot of damage. Of all of the tornadoes that happen in the United States, 69% of them are weak tornadoes. Also, weak tornadoes make up less than 5% of all tornado deaths. These tornadoes also have a lifetime, on average, of 1-10 minutes and the winds are usually less than 110 mph. (NOAA, 18)

Strong tornadoes also occur, and these include F2’s and F3’s. F2’s produce considerable damage, which includes roofs torn off frame houses, mobile homes demolished box cars overturned, large trees snapped or uprooted, ect. (NOAA, 3) F2’s have wind speeds up to 157 mph and a minimum speed of 113 mph.

F3’s are stronger than F2’s and, as such, produce more damage. F3’s have wind speeds of 158-206 miles per hour. At these speeds, severe damage is caused. Severe damage is defined by roofs and some walls torn off well constructed houses, heavy cars are lifted off the ground and thrown, ect. (NOAA, 4)

These strong tornadoes account for 29% of all tornadoes in the U.S. and they account for 30% of tornado related deaths. Also, their lifetimes are, on average, 20 minutes or longer and they have wind speeds from 110-205 mph. (NOAA, 5)

Violent tornadoes are the terrors of the skies. They are F4’s and F5’s and they are very destructive. F4’s produce devastating damage, which means that well contracted houses are leveled; structures with weak foundations are blown away some distance, ect. With wind speeds of 207-260 mph, it’s hard not to expect that something wouldn’t be destroyed. Even with the damage caused by F4’s, F5’s are basically the definition of damage.

F5’s are the strongest tornadoes on the Fujita Scale. F5’s produce incredible damage, destroying all most everything in its path. But, F5’s are known to produce some weird things, such as destroying a house and leaving the patio furniture exactly where the people left it.

F4’s and F5’s account for only 2% of all tornadoes and 70% of tornado related deaths. (NOAA, 22) Also, their lifetimes can exceed 1 hour. Even with this information, how do you know if a tornado is coming?

In the environment, there are 3 important clues that implicate that a tornado is coming. A wall cloud is usually the first sign of a tornado. A wall cloud, by definition, is a lowering of the rain free base of a thunderstorm. Wall clouds are often prior to tornado formation. Another sign of a tornado is hail. Hail is formed by strong updraughts and super cooled water droplets in a storm. In strong storms, the air is rising so quickly, that some of the inflowing water vapor doesn’t have a chance to freeze onto a solid nucleus, like a bit of dust or salt. (Henson, 75-76) The storm that spawns the tornado has strong up draughts, so the hail falls near the tornado, making it an environmental clue. Another clue is the sound the tornado makes when it is touching down. People say that is sounds like a freight train going past or a large swarm of bees. This clue is by far the scariest, as you know that the tornado is very close. Even with these environmental clues, how do you find out about a tornado, even if you aren’t there and who monitors the area and issues warnings? (NOAA, 30)

The National Severe Storms Laboratory (NSSL) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) monitors the weather, issue warnings and watches, and have programs that monitor weather phenomena from the ground. NOAA mainly prepares the forecasts and broadcasts warnings via the television, weather radio, ect. NOAA looks at weather data to determine whether a severe storm will hit an area and if it will produce a tornado. If NOAA sees a hook shaped area forming on the Doppler radar, they would issue a warning or a watch, depending on the strength of the rotation. Then the National Severe Storms Laboratory (NSSL) would pick up on the watch/warning that was issued, and have scientists in the area directly affected on the lookout for severe weather. The NSSL’s goal is to study and investigate all aspects of severe weather in order to improve severe weather warnings and forecasts in order to save lives and reduce property damage. (NSSL, 1) The NSSL helps deploy the Totable Tornado Observatory (TOTO), which helps scientists learn about what happens inside a tornado. The Verification of the Origins of Rotation in Tornadoes Experiment (VORTEX) is the largest tornado research project in history to explore how, when and why tornadoes form. (NSSL, 2) VORTEX is a team of storm chasers from all over the country that deploy weather instruments, such as TOTO, in order to study tornadoes. These government projects are intended to help keep us safe from the power of tornadoes. Even with this information, what was the deadliest tornado outbreak in U.S. history?

The deadliest tornado outbreak occurred on March 18th, 1925. The tornado that cause most of the damage was spawned NNW of Ellington, Missouri, to 10 miles NE of Princeton, Indiana. This tornado was not expected and when it struck, it was a powerful F5 tornado. It was a mile wide and destroyed everything in its path. Its range was from Missouri and went through a total of three states, giving it the name the Tri-State Tornado. It went through Missouri, Illinois, and Indiana, where it dissipated. The reason it is considered the deadliest tornado outbreak is because it took 695+ lives and made 3,000+ people injured in a space of 5 hours. The storm also destroyed15,000+ homes and caused $5-$50 million dollars in damage. The tornado was not rated back then, as the Fujita scale had not been invented. When scientists saw pictures decades later, they rated the tornado as an F5 because of all the damage it caused. (Sanders, 65)

So, what have we learned about tornadoes? Well, in the first place, we have learned that they are rapidly rotating columns of air attached to or beneath a cumuliform cloud and is in contact with the ground. Secondly, we have learned how they are formed. Thirdly, we have learned that there are environmental clues that warn us that a tornado is approaching. Also, we have learned that there are government projects that help to keep us safe from the power of tornadoes. Another thing we have learned is when and where the deadliest tornado outbreak occurred. And the most important thing we have learned about tornadoes is when you see one…run for your lives!


Allaby, Michael. Dangerous Weather: A Chronology of Weather. New York: Facts on File, 1998.

Allaby, Michael. Dangerous Weather : Tornadoes. New York: Facts on File, 1997.

“Enhanced F Scale for Tornado Damage.” http://www.spc.noaa.gov/faq/tornado/ef-scale.html

Henson, Robert. The Rough Guide to Weather. New York: Penguin Group, 2007.

“How does a tornado form?” http://www.tornadochaser.net/tornado.html

“Interactive Tornado Map: Historically Signifigant.” http://www.wunderground.com/tornado/?show=signific ant&lat=35.00775&lon=-97.09288&zoom=6&MR=1

“National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Oceanic_and_ Atmospheric_Administration February 24, 2012

“National Severe Storms Laboratory.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Severe_Storm s_Laboratory February 17, 2012

Miller, Peter. “Tornado!” National Geographic Volume 171, June 1987, pages 691-715

Passante, Christopher K. and Bologna, Julie. The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Extreme Weather. New York: Penguin Group, 2006.

Sanders, Ti. The Greatest American Disasters: Weather is Front Page News. South Bend: Icarus Press, Inc., 1983.

Svenvold, Mark. Big Weather: Chasing Tornadoes in the Heart of America. New York: Henry Holt and Company, LLC, 2005.

“Ted Fujita.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ted_Fujita February, 21, 2012

Timmer, Reed. Into the Storm. New York: Penguin Group, 2010.

“Tornado.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tornado January 8, 2012

“Tornado” http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/599941/t ornado January 10, 2012

“Tornado FAQ.” http://www.spc.noaa.gov/faq/tornado/index.html#The Basics

“Tornado FAQ.” http://www.wunderground.com/resources/severe/torna doFAQ.asp

“Tornadoes: Natures Most Violent Storms.” http://www.nssl.noaa.gov/edu/safety/tornadoguide.h tml

“Tri-State Tornado.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tri-State_Tornado January 8, 2012

“Tri-State Tornado of 1925” http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/1472896/ Tri-State-Tornado-of-1925 January 10, 2012

Please leave comments below. I would appreciate it. Thank you!! :)

The views of the author are his/her own and do not necessarily represent the position of The Weather Company or its parent, IBM.

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3:56 PM GMT on February 21, 2013
Come over to the Funny Pictures blog, and I tried to put some pictures on the blog, and apparently you can't see them. :-/ I don't know what you are even talking about with the image url
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
8. trHUrrIXC5MMX
3:47 PM GMT on February 21, 2013
you mean uploading pictures?

well, type this img src="web address"
in the web address, put the picture's address..all of it goes within brackets and only the web address has quotation marks
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
7. WunderAlertBot (Admin)
8:33 PM GMT on February 20, 2013
AETHOMAS has created a new entry.
6:05 PM GMT on February 07, 2013
Thank you all for the comments!! :) I appreciate them! This is from my research report for 7th grade (last year) and I still have to put the biblography on the post. :) Thanks!! :D
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
6:01 PM GMT on February 07, 2013
Great Report AE, very well done.

Many years ago in Fort Lauderdale, Fla my wife and son and I were heading out one Sat afternoon to the movies and were trapped in traffic in a heavy thunderstorm downpour when the rain all of a sudden went sideways in front of us. My son yelled Dad look at the tree in the swale! The truck we were in started to rock back and forth on the tires and the little tree in the swale was sucked right out of the ground next to us. It obviously went right over us without flipping the truck over. Don't ever want to be that close again.
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
4. PedleyCA
5:00 PM GMT on February 07, 2013
Well done. Never been in one either. But there are few here (SoCal).
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
3. pcola57
4:35 PM GMT on February 07, 2013
Well done AETHOMAS..
As VR46L stated it's a good read..
Just one small suggestion if I may..
Try adding a few links to give your posts some relevance and balance..
JMO of course..
Like I said,very well done.. :)
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
4:09 PM GMT on February 07, 2013
Thanks for the comment! I have never been in a tornado, but I have seen them before. 2 tornadoes across the river from where I live, and one funnel cloud right in front of me while offshore fishing. :)
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
1. VR46L
4:01 PM GMT on February 07, 2013
Nice Read!!

The nearest to a tornado I have been is 10 miles away . but it was rather weak and wispy . thats the kind you get in Ireland . I cant imagine what a F4-F5 nadar is like
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:

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