What Makes up a Tornado?
We can define tornado as a violent rotating column of air usually extending from a severe thunderstorm to contact Earth’s surface either on land or water. Now, you generally think of a tornado as being on land but you see in this case that it can be on water. Now if a tornado is on water you probably are not going to notice it and it’s not going to inflict nearly as much damage as if it was on land.
But nevertheless, the tornado can be on land or water. In fact, tornadoes can occur almost anywhere in the world except for Antarctica. But the most common and dangerous ones in the United States are between the Appalachian Mountains in the east and the Rocky Mountains in the west in an area called Tornado Alley. The states of Kansas and Oklahoma are both in the Tornado Alley which are known for having lots of tornadoes.
Now, the rotating column of air is invisible until a funnel is formed from condensed water droplets or dust and debris from the ground or maybe even a combination of the two. So a tornado in and of itself is invisible because it’s just a rotating column of air but that rotating column of air is going to pick up debris or water droplets and that’s how it becomes visible. Now, the extreme rotating wind speeds reduce pressure inside the funnel significantly.
Now, because of the low pressure inside the funnel the air molecules can’t expand because there’s not as much pressure on them. But when the air molecules expand, they have to perform work to expand so when they’re performing work they’re using kinetic energy and a type of energy is heat. So they’re releasing this energy which is causing a release of heat which causes the temperature to drop. And so the temperature drops until water vapor condenses into visible droplets. We have a scale to measure the strength of a tornado or we can just look at the wind speed but we have a scale called the Fujita scale or we can call it the F scale which is a way to measure the intensity of a tornado on a scale of zero to 5.
So if you ask how big a tornado was – instead of getting a wind speed, you’ll just get a number from zero to 5. This makes it easier to just get a general idea of how big a tornado was. And so starting out at F-zero tornado has wind speeds of 40 to 70 miles an hour and those types of tornadoes don’t cause a lot of damage but some very violent F-5 tornadoes can have wind speeds exceeding 310 miles an hour and that can inflict some serious damage and loss of life. So that’s a look at tornadoes.