The Anatomy of a Tornado

I am sitting here looking at the radar map for my state of Arkansas. I count four different tornado watch areas overlapping each other. The forecast for my area is thunderstorms after midnight tonight, so no sleeping for me. If you’ve never seen a tornado or the destruction it can do you have no idea of the fear it instills in me.

I have had them take the roof off my house and throw ceiling tile like bullets at my head, I’ve had the truck I was riding in picked up, turned around and carried a half mile back down the road we had just traveled and I have witnessed first hand the destruction of a town. Yes these beasts scare me.

Just what is a tornado and how do they form? A tornado is a violently rotating funnel of air extending from a thunderstorm or super cell to the ground. This funnel forms when three different types of wind come together in a particular way. The three forms of wind are warm moist air on the lower level, hot dry air in the middle and cold dry area on top. You start with instability of warm moist air that is being lifted upward by a south wind. This layer hits the dry hot air which is forming a cap that then makes the warm moist air even hotter, making the atmosphere even more unstable. The severe thunderstorm or super cell that forms tornadoes moves east and begins to lift the different layers, which removes the cap causing strong updrafts. As the updrafts hit the wind shear (wind speed and direction with height) the updraft begins to rotate and a tornado is born.

The strongest tornadoes can have wind up to 250mph. They could be one mile wide and travel more than fifty miles. They mainly move from southwest to northeast but don’t be fooled by this because they can travel any direction they want to.

Tornadoes tend to form under a wall cloud. A wall cloud is a smaller cloud underneath the main cloud. The wall cloud is generally free of precipitation. The wall cloud is usually found underneath the area where the flanking line intersects the tallest-growing tower in the storm.

What you should watch for ; Dark, often greenish sky, Wall cloud, Large hail and a loud roar; similar to a freight train. But when you hear the loud roar it is really too late to do anything but tuck your head between you knees and pray because it is there. If you live in an area that is prone to tornadoes I advise you to do as I have and study everything you can about them, especially what to do to keep you and your family safe.