It whirls and twirls, it twists and curls, as it picks up and hurls everything in its path. This unpredictable weather phenomenon, who can know, the destructive tornado.
Not my words, of course, but the poetry of Allen Steble. Amazing isn’t it? Really encapsulates what we recognise as a tornado.
Still, they can put us in awe whenever they damn please – what with their whirls and twirls and twists and curls.
Check out this recent footage of a tornado in the States and tell me you aren’t terrified:
Now look, we seldom get them here in the UK, but the possibility of seeing one of them in, say, rural Cheshire, is something that strikes the fear of God in many a Brit.
It begs the age-old question, doesn’t it? ‘Just what are tornadoes?’ Well, let’s get to it.
A tornado is a violent rotating column of air extending from a thunderstorm to the ground, the most of which are capable of tremendous destruction with wind speeds of up to 300mph.
They can obliterate large buildings, uproot trees and hurl vehicles hundreds of yards. They can also drive straw into trees. In any given year, 1,000 tornadoes are reported nationwide in the United States.
Most tornadoes are created by thunderstorms. To brew one, you need warm, moist air from say the Gulf of Mexico and cool, dry air from somewhere like Canada. When these two air masses collide, they create instability in the atmosphere, which is a nice of saying ‘they create something which probably gave Native Americans nervous breakdowns.’
I mean, imagine for a moment seeing a tornado prior to to the Enlightenment. ‘Erm, Chief, I’m real happy for you. I’mma let you finish, but WHAT. THE. F**K. IS. THAT.’ Every single day a sh*tshow of terrifying natural world dangers and having no clue why any of it is happening.
Anyway, the look of a tornado is caused by a change in wind direction and an increase in wind speed with increasing height. This creates an invisible, horizontal spinning effect in the lower atmosphere.
To develop, several conditions are required. Abundant low level moisture is necessary to contribute to the development of a thunderstorm, and a ‘trigger’ is needed to lift the moist air aloft. Once the air begins to rise and becomes saturated, it will continue rising to great heights to produce a thunderstorm cloud.
Tornadoes usually form in areas where winds at all levels of the atmosphere are not only strong, but also turn with height in a clockwise or veering direction.
They can appear as a traditional funnel shape, or in a slender rope-like form, as seen in the above video. Some have a weird, smoky look to them. Even others may be nearly invisible, with only swirling dust or debris at ground levels as the only giveaway of the tornado’s presence.
Amazingly, tornadoes can happen at any time of the year and at any time of the day. In the southern states of the US, peak tornado season is from March through May. Peak times for tornadoes in the northern states are during the summer.
Keep safe, our American friends.
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