Whether you actually encounter a tornado or merely see pictures of its aftermath, they may be extremely frightening.
The majority of tornadoes are brief and safe. But when a tornado deviates from its course and strikes a person, it can result in serious injury or even death.
That is what happened when a series of tornadoes struck the United States in the first few days of December 2021, wreaking havoc from Kentucky to Arkansas. Numerous fatalities were reported.
How does a tornado form?
Scientists know the basic ingredients for a tornado, but they are still trying to work out exactly what causes them.
Walker Ashley, an atmospheric scientist at Northern Illinois University, adds, “The real answer is we don’t know.”
The closer the air tube may get to the earth and the greater the likelihood that it will become a tornado. Consider it like a figure skater, says Ashley.
“A figure skater slows down when they extend their arms. A figure skater speeds up when they bring their arms in, “Ashley says. “Furthermore, a storm takes that rotation, tilts it vertically, and stretches it. Additionally, stretching it makes the rotation even more pronounced.”
When that occurs, gusts of warm and chilly air rush across the landscape in opposite directions. The air near the ground begins to spin if there are enough rising and sinking gusts.
Once it’s vertical, the tornado becomes darker. It picks up dust, debris and anything else that gets in its way. A really intense tornado will pick up cars, animals and even houses.
Specific weather conditionsHow does climate change affect tornadoes?
Only under highly particular weather conditions do tornadoes form. A supercell, a type of rotating thunderstorm, typically initiates it. A supercell has the potential to produce hail, powerful winds, lightning, and flash floods.
You can experience “wind shear” if the wind’s direction and speed change at various elevations.
Although wind shears are frequently harmless, they can twist air currents and produce a horizontal tube of air. In supercell thunderstorms, that is typical, although it is not yet a tornado.
Why are tornadoes hard to predict?
In the US, spring is regarded as tornado season, however tornadoes can occur at any time, as they did in December 2021.
Tornadoes are small compared to other types of extreme weather, which makes them difficult to anticipate. They are therefore challenging to observe.
Even the most destructive tornadoes are, at best, a half-mile (800 meters) broad; they normally occur in the range of seconds to minutes, according to Ashley. “If we think about all the many threats we have like hurricanes, droughts, and floods, tornadoes might be one of the smallest,” she adds.
As a result, tornadoes frequently occur below specific levels that scientists typically employ to observe, forecast, and predict weather phenomena. Scientists can model tornadoes on computers, but Ashley notes that “it requires a huge amount of computing power.”
Extreme weather occurrences must be predicted in order for authorities to issue warnings and give people time to flee dangerous situations. What do they then do?
Scientists keep an eye out for supercell thunderstorms and utilize radar equipment to gauge the mesocyclone’s rotational speed in order to offer warnings. The likelihood that it may develop into a tornado increases with rotation speed and distance from the ground.
Radar technology is used to determine how quickly the mesocyclone is whirling, and scientists keep an eye out for supercell thunderstorms to offer warnings. It is more likely to develop into a tornado the quicker it is swirling and the closer it is to the earth.
According to Ashley, “the bulk of the storms and tornadoes [we watch] are on the cusp, like a storm is whirling erratically in the mid-levels, but just because it’s up there doesn’t mean it’s going to drop down.”
However, Ashley notes that one crucial component of the issue is that scientists “don’t have very good observations in the lowest regions of the atmosphere.”
How does climate change affect tornadoes?
It is complicated how climate change affects tornadoes. Ashley, though, asserts that the issue is not one of causality. Is climate change a factor in the precise “ingredients” required for tornado formation?
According to Ashley, “as it relates to climate change, we know that some of the basic elements that [add to] intense thunderstorms and later result in hail and tornadoes are growing.”
And the modeling demonstrates that this is especially true in the US, while it’s also possible that it’s taking place in the UK and Europe.