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What Are Tornadoes (Video)

winter tornadoes are not uncommon

Tornadoes have really been in the news lately. It seems that they have become more and more common, not being limited to what is considered “tornado season”.

Tornadoes may not really be more frequent, but our ability to monitor them has improved, so we hear about them more than ever. Understanding tornadoes can make it easier to be prepared for them.

Tornadoes are vortexes of air descending from a thunderstorm to the ground. They are formed when moist, warm air with strong south winds mixes with cool, dry air with strong west or southwest winds, causing instability in the atmosphere. This instability causes a vortex of wind to form, usually seen as a funnel cloud.

In order to be an official tornado, the funnel must be in contact with the ground as well as the cloud base. In some cases, tornadoes are not visible because of blowing dust or rain. These are especially dangerous.

It used to be assumed that tornado season was from March through May, but tornadoes can really occur at any time, as we have seen this winter. Tornadoes occur most often between 3 and 9 pm, but can actually occur at any time of the day or night.

The range of a tornado can be from 100 yards to a mile wide and typically last 10 to 15 minutes, though it isn’t unheard of for a tornado to last for an hour or more. Most tornadoes travel from the southwest to the northeast, though they can go anywhere.

Scientists are still trying to nail down all the detail of what a tornado really is, but they have gotten pretty good at letting us know in advance if one is expected. When a tornado warning is issued for your location, you should go to a predetermined safe place.

This could be a central room with no windows, a basement or a storm shelter. If you live in a mobile home, make sure you have found out in advance where the closest storm shelter is located so you can get there fast.

Keep an emergency kit in your safe room that includes a helmet, gloves, extra shoes, a weather radio and a flashlight with extra batteries. The supplies in our Hurricane Kit and 1 Person Survival Kit will cover most of your needs during a tornado. Keep an emergency kit for your pets as well, including a pet carrier and extra leash to keep them controlled and safe in the event of an emergency.

Learn more about winter tornadoes from The Weather Channel:

photo credit: tlindenbaum via photopin cc

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