Introduction to Tornadoes

A tornado looks like a column of air or condensed funnel, which is moving anti-clockwise at high speeds with one end of the column being in contact with the ground and the other touching the heavy clouds (Galiano, 2000, p. 3). Sometimes, the vertical funnels consist of clouds of debris, dirt, objects, or dust.

Conversely, tornadoes occur in various shapes and sizes including rope-like, wedge-shaped, classical, fat cylinders, and conical tornadoes. Furthermore, tornadoes can be classified into several types including supercell, waterspout, landspout, gustnado, dust devil, and firewhirls.

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Accordingly, a wedge-shaped tornado consists of straight edges, a non-funnel shape, and its damage path is usually wide. Moreover, its width is much bigger than its height. On the other hand, classical tornadoes consist of funnels that never touch the ground, and thus, the ground surface rises in such a way that the tornado is half funnel and half dirt or dust (Prokos, 2008, p. 10).

During any form of tornado, some vital signs can be noticed such as the occurrence of a dark-green sky, dense and low-lying clouds, unusual loud sounds, and large hails.

Therefore, it is advisable for one to take immediate cover upon observing these weather changes. Thus, some of the safety measures during a tornado include avoiding windows, discussing safety measures with family members, avoiding mobile homes, stopping the car if driving, avoiding trees and tall buildings, and lying flat on the ground or a ditch while protecting the head (CDC, 2007).

To further understand the dynamics of tornadoes, the Bernoulli’s principle has been utilized to explain the principle behind the formation of tornadoes. Accordingly, in fluid dynamics, the principle has it that in some fluids with zero velocity (theoretical fluids displaying inviscid flow), an increase in the velocity of the fluid follows a subsequent decrease in fluid pressure or potential energy.

As a result, the formation of tornadoes can be affected by Bernoulli’s principle since most tornadoes show a local vortex (the wall of the air column) flow whereby the velocity of the flow is greatest at the center of the vortex (Grazulis, 2001, p. 20).

The sound made by most tornadoes involves loud roars, which resemble the sound made by freight trains, waterfalls, or jet engines. According to the Earth Systems Laboratory Study of Sound, the use of infrasonic arrays is effective in detecting tornadoes occurring in high plains several minutes before they can touch the ground.

This study referred to as infrasonics involves detection of infrasonic signatures, vibrations, or disturbed waves with frequencies below the level detectable by the human ear (Galiano, 2000). Furthermore, the study shows that tornado sounds are caused by the tornado vortex winds and the interaction between airflows and the ground dust or debris. Moreover, the funnel clouds have been shown to produce whistling, buzzing, humming, and whining sounds.

Tornado Variations

As mentioned earlier, tornadoes occur in many shapes, sizes, and categories. For example, landspout also known as dust-tube tornado is a tornado with lesser intensity compared to supercell tornadoes, and thus, they occur for a short period.

As opposed to supercell tornadoes, which involve thick vertical columns of air rotating constantly at 200 mph (mesocyclone), the landspout does not have any characteristics of a mesocyclone. However, a landspout can generate strong winds that can cause massive damage particularly when the smooth funnel touches the ground (Galiano, 2000, p. 61).

On the other hand, multiple vortex tornadoes consist of numerous vortices, which form the center of the main vortex or part of it. Additionally, the multiple vortices can be seen rotating around the main vortex.

This type of tornado is visible when it is forming for the first time or when the condensation funnel together with the debris or dust is dense enough so that the subvortices can appear clearly.

Conversely, the structure of multiple vortex tornadoes involves a family of vortices that form the wall of the main tornado, which rotates around a common center with the strongest of the vortices lasting for the longest duration (Galiano, 2000).

Furthermore, waterspouts are tornadoes, which occur in water bodies whereby the cooler humid air on the surface of water rotates as a result of the warmer air beneath rising. Moreover, since the humid air is lighter, it whirls skywards forming a column of air known as the vortex (which is the wall of the tornado funnel).

Subsequently, as the water vapor condenses to generate heat and water droplets, the vortex makes rapid rotations upwards, and thus, causes the formation of either of the two types of tornadoes namely tornadic and non-tornadic waterspouts (Grazulis, 2001).

Formation of Tornadoes

Most studies note that there is no fully acceptable process of tornado formation to date. However, a typical tornado forms several miles above the surface of the earth within a strongly rotating thunderstorm known as a supercell, which can be detected via the Doppler radar (Grazulis, 2001, p. 20).

Furthermore, a set of weather conditions are required for tornadoes to form. For instance, the interaction of three distinct types of air forms the basis of tornadoes.

Here the favorable weather conditions for tornado formation include, a layer of warm and wet air together with southern winds occurring near the earth’s surface, cool air together with southwestern winds occurring in the upper atmosphere, and temperature and moisture changes between the upper atmosphere and the earth’s surface.

Other favorable weather conditions include changes in the direction and velocity of wind, which causes wind shearing that eventually leads to furious air rotations characteristic of most tornadoes (Grazulis, 2001).

On the other hand, the establishment of a third hot and dry air layer between the warm humid air on the ground and the cooler air at the upper atmosphere, forms a cap that forces the warm humid air below it to become warmer and unstable. Subsequently, a storm that occurs in the upper atmosphere causes different layers of air to rise, and as a result removing the cap and causing the development of explosive thunderstorms and updrafts (Grazulis, 2001).

Furthermore, the subsequent interaction of the updrafts or thunderstorms with the surrounding eastern winds causes upward air rotations similar to those observed in most tornadoes. Sometimes, the rising air columns or funnels consist of water droplets, debris, dust, or objects, and thus, they are visible.

However, some tornadoes fail to touch the ground, thus they are mainly made up of the rotating wind, which may not be visible. Conversely, tornadoes are frequently formed in Central United States particularly around the Great Plains, the Rocky Mountains in the western part, and the Gulf of Mexico located to the southern parts.


This essay presents a detailed discussion regarding tornadoes. According to the discussions presented above, tornadoes are columns of air or condensed funnels rotating anti-clockwise at high speeds with one end of the funnel touching the ground and the other end reaching the heavy clouds in the upper atmosphere.

The rotating columns of air produce loud roars resembling the sound produced by freight trains, jet engines, or waterfalls.

Since the vertically rotating columns of air contain several objects, dust, or debris, they are a possible danger to people because of their ability to cause massive damage such as lifting roofs or cars. As a result, upon noticing signs such as a dark green sky, heavy low-lying clouds, loud roars, or large hails, there is the need to take immediate cover.

Therefore, during a tornado, it is advisable to avoid windows, tall buildings, mobile homes, stop the car if driving, and lie flat on the ground or a ditch while protecting your head against flying objects.

Reference list

CDC. (2007). Emergency preparedness and response: During a tornado. Clifton, USA: Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

Galiano, D. (2000). Tornadoes. New York: The Rose Publishing Group.

Grazulis, T.P. (2001). The tornado: Nature’s ultimate windstorm. USA: University of Oklahoma Press.

Prokos, A. (2008). Tornadoes. USA: Gareth Stevens.