Melanie has a BS in physical science and is in grad school for analytics and modeling. She also runs a YouTube channel: The Curious Coder.
What Is a Tornado?
A tornado is a rotating column of air that extends from the storm clouds to the ground. Many times tornados actually touching the land (or water) below. However, a tornado doesn't need to touch the ground for its winds to wreak havoc.
Tornadoes are extremely violent storms with high wind speeds that reach up to 300 miles per hour! These high wind speeds can cause a large amount of damage to trees, vehicles, and even large buildings!
High wind speeds, matched with rain and lightning is a bad mix! In fact, this can wreak havoc on neighborhoods and even entire towns!
I live in the northern section of tornado alley where only a handful of tornadoes occur. One of my earliest memories is that of standing in the yard with my mother watching a perfectly formed tornado looming over distant fields.
In June of 2007, a tornado hit in Elie, Manitoba, and is Canada's first known F5 tornado.
The storm was initially estimated at an F4 but was later upgraded to an F5, making it the most powerful tornado in Canada's history.
In Seymour, Texas, a tornado tore through the countryside uprooting trees, pulling up utility poles, and ripping apart small structures, but this funnel was only rated as an F2. The supercell wasn't done when it left Seymour, though! This storm formed another, considerably larger tornado that devastated Witchita Falls in under an hour!
Most tornadoes occur in North America on a big chunk of land known as Tornado Alley. Tornado Alley is made up of the Great Plains, a flat area that stretches from the Rockies to the Appalachian Mountains.
The weather conditions and flat landscapes of Oklahoma, Kansas, and Northern Texas are perfect for creating funnel clouds, so these states see an enormous amount of tornadoes compared to other states.
Read More From Owlcation
Waterspouts (Water Tornadoes)
There are two types of waterspouts.
- Fair-weather waterspout: This is the more common type of waterspout. It is not related to land-based tornadoes (no supercell updraft). Fair-weather waterspouts are very weak and usually last less than 20 seconds.
- Tornadic waterspout: These are almost exactly the same as a land-based tornado. The only differences are that they occur over water and are generally weaker than their land-based counterparts.
What Is an Occluded Tornado?
An occluded tornado is one that is "old" and is starting to dissipate. Dissipating tornadoes often form a rope-like tube before scattering. The storm can create another cyclone. In fact, many storms have been known to create multiple cyclones!
We're not in Kansas anymore
Tornadoes have occurred in every U.S. state (including Hawaii and Alaska) and on every continent except Antarctica.
Tornadoes Are Rated on the Fujita Scale
Tornadoes are graded on the Fujita (or F) scale. The scale goes from F0 (weakest) to F5 (strongest.) An F0 cyclone tops off at around 72 miles per hour. Winds this speed can damage small trees and knock down branches. Just under 40% of tornadoes rate as an F0.
- F1 tornadoes reach hurricane wind speeds, topping off at 112 miles per hour. Even though the rating of F1 sounds weak, these cyclones can blow a mobile home off its foundation and push cars around. Just over 35% of cyclones reach F1 speeds.
- F2 tornadoes are where things really start to get ugly. Topping off at speeds of 157 miles per hour, these cyclones can rip roofing off of homes, push over boxcars, and uproot large trees. Just under 20% of storms are classified as an F2.
- F3 tornadoes are the ones where you're going to want to tunnel underground (think your basement.) Winds reaching speeds of just over 200 miles per hour are strong enough to twist up a skyscraper or uproot an entire forest!
- F4 tornadoes are really just a stepping stone between an F3 and an F5. It does serious damage. This is where you're hoping your basement has a basement! Fortunately, only 1.1% of tornadoes are classified as an F4. At wind speeds of up to 260 miles per hour, this storm can use a heavy car as a projectile!
- F5 cyclones can reach speeds of over 300 miles per hour. This is not a storm you want to get caught up in. Winds this speed can uproot well-built homes and even seriously damage concrete and steel structures. Fortunately, tornadoes this strong are rare. Less than 0.1% of tornadoes are classified as an F5.
A storm that creates six or more tornadoes is called a tornado outbreak. I witnessed the June 1990 Lower Ohio Valley tornado outbreak. Indiana experienced 37 tornadoes during this storm beating the 1974 record for the most tornadoes in one day. The 1990 record still stands.
© 2011 Melanie Palen
JULIANNA on March 26, 2019:
That is amazing.
Anoop Aravind A from Nilambur, Kerala, India on July 03, 2012:
Wonderful pictures... I'm not aware tornado's. But i recently saw a movie regarding this.
So I'm again congratulating you for posting these wonderful hub...
deergha from ...... a place beyond now and beyond here !!! on July 03, 2012:
wonderful photos...voted up.
Lot Rillera from Philippines on July 03, 2012:
those pics are scary for me. I hope this would not bring harm to our family and houses.
nice hub !
Jessee R from Gurgaon, India on July 03, 2012:
Whoa.. loads of information here... would really not want to get caught in any one of those...
Brilliant pictures.. awesome hub
brenda12lynette from Utah on June 21, 2012:
Great pictures!! I've lived in tornado alley (OK and TX panhandle) my whole life and have never seen one. On the plus size, I've never been directly affected by one either. Voted up :)
Daisy Mariposa from Orange County (Southern California) on June 21, 2012:
I'm fascinated by the photographs and the information you provided. I live in earthquake country in Southern California. I think I would rather live here than in *tornado alley*.
Debbie Carey from Riverton, KS, USA on February 26, 2012:
Like sholland, I live near Joplin, MO and a tornado truly can be a devastating monster! Not something anyone wishes to experience. Your hub has good information and great pictures!
Justin W Price from Juneau, Alaska on February 25, 2012:
great photos, Mel. Thank u for sharing them!
Cindy Murdoch from Texas on February 25, 2012:
These are some amazing photos. I live in tornado alley so I know how deadly these can be.
Marcy Goodfleisch from Planet Earth on February 25, 2012:
Amazing! The power of such things is mind boggling. Thanks for compiling and publishing this very interesting photo collection!
Michael S from Danville, VA on February 25, 2012:
I'm one of those that is attracted to the very things that scare me! Tornadoes, spiders...you name it, but there's a weird fascination to them...can tell you anything about them, go figure. Loved these photos. Now if I can just manage to see a real tornado! Been close twice but no luck.
Susan Holland from Southwest Missouri on February 25, 2012:
This is great info. I live in tornado alley, not far from Joplin, MO, that experienced an F5 tornado. Completely took their hospital and twisted it from its base. We went over to help and took a ton of picture. Just tragic.
I love your detail and pictures! Voted and shared!
Rebecca Mealey from Northeastern Georgia, USA on February 25, 2012:
Great pictures and good information about tornadoes. We are about to enter the season. One really has to listen and heed the warnings!
Cynthia Calhoun from Western NC on February 25, 2012:
I know this is completely unrelated, but the "fujita" scale makes me want some "fajitas". :D Great, informative hub. Voted up and socially shared.
annmackiemiller on November 05, 2011:
these are amazing pictures I am so glad we don't get tornadoes in Britain. Voted up and stuff
Mary Hyatt from Florida on November 03, 2011:
Wow! Great photos of tornadoes. We don't have many in S. Fl. although every now and again one will hit. We just have hurricanes, but we get plenty of warning.
Denise Handlon from North Carolina on November 03, 2011:
They're so frightening, aren't they. I was caught in the Hurricane Irene this yr. Slept under a gas station overhang.
Jason Menayan from San Francisco on November 03, 2011:
Wow, truly stunning. I am mesmerized by tornadoes ("Twister" was one of my favorite flicks of the 1990s) and these are great shots.
Audrey Hunt from Pahrump NV on November 02, 2011:
Here in Tennessee, we have our share of Tornadoes. I moved from California to escape earthquakes, however, I think I prefer an earthquake to a tornado. Excellent hub and rated UP!
India Arnold from Northern, California on November 02, 2011:
I first encountered the fury of Tornado's when stationed in Texas in the 1980s. They are a frightening and powerful sight, but for a California girl, they were sheer terror!
Melanie Palen (author) from Midwest, USA on November 02, 2011:
@WD Curry - It happened when I was a small child. It's one of my faintest memories but I remember clearly how the sky was and how the air felt that day. This is when I was living down in Jasper, Indiana. The tornado was actually a county over but we could see it from our yard. I actually found a video of it on YouTube, but decided against posting it in the hub. :P
After that, my sister and I used to play house, but we would play "tornado" where we'd pretend a tornado was coming and we would hide under the basement steps. Because of this, both she and I have disaster preparedness down to an art!
Thank you, everyone, for such the amazing and thoughtful comments!
CondoLux Rentals from North Myrtle Beach,South Carolina on November 02, 2011:
Would you look at that..... nature's fury eh?
SirDent on November 02, 2011:
Those tornadoes are something!!!! I hope none of them took your cat away. ;)
Deidre Shelden from Texas, USA on November 02, 2011:
These are awesome shots of tornadoes. They are so shockingly powerful!
WD Curry 111 from Space Coast on November 02, 2011:
I used to teach. Where were you? This is the best tornado presentation I have ever seen. You did a great job of conveying the awesome beauty of the event. Now you need to come down to Florida and have yourself a Hurricane experience. You may see all of these tornadoes in one day, if you come out from under the bed.
diogenes on November 02, 2011:
Extremely interesting hub and great pics. I used to live in the US and have seen a couple of big ones in the distance. It's amazing how dark it gets, too, when these storms are around. I have heard they even drive straws into telegraph poles! Bob
Moira Garcia Gallaga from Lisbon, Portugal on November 02, 2011:
Those are indeed astonishing photos of tornadoes. Amazing stuff, just shows you the power of nature. It's a reminder to us humans that there are some things in this world that is beyond our control or influence.