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Tornado Activities
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Tornado

Weather Theme Page for K-3
Introduction to Tornadoes Tornado Alley Tornado Classification Tornado Glossary Tornado Activities

Introduction to Tornadoes



In the Northen Hemisphere (north of the equator), most tornadoes rotate in a counterclockwise direction.


In the Southern Hemisphere (south of the equator), most tornadoes rotate in a clockwise direction.
A tornado is a violent, column-like system of rapidly-rotating air that is in contact with the ground. Most tornadoes are funnel-shaped. Although tornadoes are short-lived (they usually last for a few minutes), they can be very destructive and even deadly.

Tornadoes form in thunderstorms, when unstable hot air near the ground rises and meets cooler air above in thunder clouds. Tornadoes can form at any time of the year, but most form from March to August (in the Northern Hemisphere).

Tornado Watch and Warning
Meteorologists (scientists who study the weather) can sometimes warn people when conditions are right for tornadoes in a particular area, but the ability to predict tornadoes is very limited. People usually only have a few minutes warning (if that much). When you hear a tornado warning, find shelter IMMEDIATELY!

The following are tornado warning terms:
Tornado Watch -- This means that tornadoes may form in the area, because conditions are favorable for their formation. People should stay tuned to radio or TV weather and listen for local warning sirens (but these are only available in some areas).
Tornado Warning -- A tornado has formed in the area! Find shelter immediately! A basement is best, but if that isn't available, go to an interior room or closet in a house, and stay far away from windows. If there aren't any buildings around, lie face-down on the ground in a low lying area (like a ditch) and cover your head with your hands for protection.

How Long Does a Tornado Last?
Tornadoes usually last just a few minutes. The shortest last for only a few seconds, but the longest (and most dangerous) can last for over an hour (but these are extremely rare)!

Wind Speed in a Tornado
The average wind speeds in most tornadoes are about 112 mph (180 km/h) or less. Winds in the most extreme tornadoes can be over 300 mph (500 km/h).

Tornadoes are ranked using a scale called the Fujita Scale, five categories of wind speed that are estimated the damage left behond (these are not wind speed measurements, since most wind-speed measuring devices are destroyed during tornadoes, and since the tornadoes die out so quickly, Doppler radar wind measurements are not usually done).

F-5 tornadoes are the most dangerous type (and the rarest type).


Tornado Alley
Tornadoes form all over the world, but some areas are more prone to tornadoes than others. The USA gets a lot of tornadoes. In the USA, there are an average of over 1,000 tornadoes every year. killing about 60 people. Tornadoes have formed in every state of the USA, but Tornado Alley is an area in plains of the mid-USA that has a very high number of very destructive tornadoes.

Tornado Alley extends from central Texas northward to Illinois and Indiana. The heart of Tornado Alley includes parts of Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, eastern Colorado, and South Dakota. Less intense areas of Tornado Alley incude parts of Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Iowa, Tennessee, Kentucky, Wisconsin, and Minnesota.

The Most Deadly US Tornado:
The Tri-state Tornado of March 18, 1925 was the deadliest tornado in U.S. history (according to the National Weather Service Storm Prediction Center). 689 people were killed by this tornado (it may have been a series of tornadoes, and not a single giant tornado).

Web Links:
FEMA for kids, http://www.fema.gov/kids/tornado.htm.
NOAA current US tornado activity map - http://www.spc.noaa.gov/index.html.
American Red Cross, Materials for Children: http://www.redcross.org/pubs/dspubs/childmatls.html.


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