Tornado Home Page

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   Common Questions
bulletWhat is a tornado?
bulletWhere is tornado alley?
bulletWhat is a warning?
bulletHow is a tornado created?
bulletHow do you measure the strength of a tornado?
bulletDo we study tornadoes?

What is a tornado?

A tornado is a whirling wind characteristically accompanied by a funnel-shaped cloud extending from a cumulonimbus cloud. A cumulonimbus cloud is a dark and heavy cloud that rises like mountains high in the sky. It often shows an anvil--shaped veil of ice clouds. 


How is a tornado created?

To the right is a picture of a cumulonimbus cloud commonly called a thunderhead. Notice the anvil shape.  When a thunderstorm approaches you, a tornado will come first and then the hail and heavy rain follows.  The hail is formed in the up currents of this super cell and falls out in the down currents of the storm.

Where is Tornado Alley?

Tornado Alley is located in the red and yellow zones. The red zones are hit more often than than the yellow zones.  Remember that tornadoes can hit anywhere in the United States.

How do you measure the strength of a tornado?

The Fujita scale is a scale that measures the strength and effects of a tornado.  By the damage incurred, scientists can assess how much force (wind speed) was needed to create the damage. However, with the advent of  the Doppler radar, scientists can now indirectly measure the wind speed from a distance. Light damage is when a branches fall off the trees much like when a heavy thunderstorm passes through. In moderate damage some trees will have fallen down and windows will be broken.  Considerable damage causes trees to be uprooted,  mobile homes to be turned over, and outdoor weak structures to be demolished such as sheds. Severe damage is very serious damage such as overturned cars, demolished walls and trees will be flatten.  In devastating and incredible damages, structures may be demolished, picked up, and carried over wide areas. 



Wind Speed (mph)   

Damaged expected



Light Damage



 Moderate Damage




    Considerable Damage



  Severe Damage



Devastating Damage



Incredible Damage

What is a tornado warning?

The key to saving lives is being aware and prepared.  The first step in being aware and prepared is to know the difference between a tornado warning and a tornado watch.

A tornado watch means that conditions are favorable for tornadoes to form.  The conditions are determined by local and national meteorologists. 

When a tornado watch has been issued, you should turn on your local television or radio station.  If outside, stay aware of approaching, threatening   clouds.  If you hear thunder, then the storm is near enough for you to move inside and listen to further  news broadcasts. 

A tornado warning means that a tornado has been sighted locally or  Doppler radar picked up large scale rotations where tornadoes are likely to form.  Visit the Safety Page for details on what do to if a warning has been issued

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Do we study tornadoes? 

Yes! Meteorologists are scientists that studies, understands, observes, or forecasts the Earth's phenomenon of weather.  Meteorologists can also be called atmospheric scientists.  We commonly think of meteorologists as the weatherman; yet there is much more to the field.  For example, meteorology is   needed in fields such as severe storms forecaster, bioclimatologists, air traffic controller assistant, national laboratory researcher, hydrological engineer, agriculturalist, teacher, radio propagation researcher, paleoclimatology, and many more.   If you study geology, it is very helpful to have knowledge of weather in the fields of sedimentology, paleogeology, and hydrology.  Weather enthusiasts contribute to science of meteorology by being storm spotters or tornado chasers.


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