Weather Information: Introduction To Tornadoes

Tornado definition and description, how they develop, and how strength is measured. Learn also how to survive this natural disaster.

A tornado is one of the most violent and unpredictable storms known to man. It can strike at any time and any hour and in almost all regions of the world. Tornadoes, also known as a twister, cyclone and funnel, have been known to pick up cows and place them down miles away without doing any harm to them. Tornadoes can pass through an area and do no damage at all, yet they can rip a path of death and destruction so devastating that it can erase a whole community in less than 5 minutes. That is what makes a tornado so unpredictable.

A tornado forms when conditions become favorable. This is usually during severe thunderstorms commonly called super cells. When the air is hot and humid super cells can develop rapidly. These storms are the kind that can spawn tornadoes. When a tornado forms over water it's called a waterspout. These usually form in the fall when cool air comes across the warmer waters. Once these waterspouts come on land they dissipate almost as quickly as they form. The way the experts measure the strength of a tornado is by using the fugita scale.

When a tornado warning has been issued, getting into shelter immediately is the most important thing. Never try to watch a tornado, and if in a car, never try to out run it. Make sure you take cover between the tornado and the car so that the car doesn't get blown over onto you. Never use your car as a shield. The best way to survive a tornado is to prepare for one before the threat of a tornado. Keep supplies on hand in the shelter so that if a tornado threatens, you won't have to hunt for the supplies. Some of the supplies you'll need are:

First aid kit


Battery-powered radio



Canned food

Can opener (non electric)

Bottled water

Sturdy shoes

Work gloves

Also learn ahead of time how to shut off your utilities so that you won't have natural gas leaking, and write the directions down. Keep the directions with the kit.

Tornado drills are just as important as fire drills, so you'll want to have a couple drills to make sure everyone knows what to do.

Listen to the radio or TV for weather reports. A tornado watch means that the conditions are favorable for the development of a tornado. Be ready to take shelter if the need arises. A tornado warning means it's been sighted and may be heading your way. Get into a shelter immediately.

Keep an eye on your surroundings. If you see debris flying everywhere, and you hear the roaring sound like that of a passing freight train, it's time to hit the shelter.

Remember. If you live in a mobile home, get out and find a basement or storm shelter. Trailers even if strapped down will be annihilated by a tornado.

After the storm is over and the all clear has been given, watch for downed power lines, and other hazards. Stay away from heavily damaged areas and wait for instructions via the radio.

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