For those that live in Tornado Alley, the threat of losing everything to a twister is a constant reality during tornado season. While a lot of natural disasters can take us by surprise, tornadoes form from specific circumstances that we can monitor and look out for. Here’s how a tornado forms and how to stay safe should you be in the path of one:
1. Tornadoes form from thunderstorms.
To get a tornado, you need a thunderstorm. Thunderstorms occur when there’s warm, moist air that rises up quickly to cooler regions. But not just any old thunderstorm will result in a tornado. You also need certain wind patterns, namely a rotating updraft and a downdraft spinning in different directions.
2. The spinning air needs to be close to the ground.
Spinning air alone isn’t enough, either. The storm needs to move closer to the ground in order to create gusts of warm and cold air. Too much cold air and a tornado won’t form. But if the balance is right, the air will continue to speed up until a tornado begins to take shape.
3. Picture a figure skater, and you’ll understand the physics.
It helps to picture a tornado as a figure skater spinning with their arms out. Their spin will be slow, and slow spin means no tornado. But if they move their arms in (the tornado is pulled inward) towards their axis of rotation, they’ll spin faster, as a tornado does.
If you know a tornado is on the way, prepare yourself.
The incredibly strong winds are just one threat a tornado presents. They also carry tons of debris, so your first course of action is to get yourself out of the way. Basements and underground shelters keep you secure and out of harm's way, so if you can find one get to it. If not, keep away from windows and try to find something sturdy to take shelter under. Cover yourself to protect your body from flying objects, and wait for it to pass.