Tornados just may be one of the most destructive forces on Earth. They strike with little warning and can cause catastrophic damage due to high winds and more importantly the debris contained within the storm.
A tornado is a rotating column of air that extends down from a storm system and touches the ground. They are a beautiful thing to see, which is ironic due to the devastation and fear they create. They form during violent thunderstorms which occur when warm and cool air cause instability within the atmosphere.
A wedge tornado is a one in which the width of the column of rotating air in larger than the distance from the top of the storm to the ground. They are quite a sight to behold and very dangerous.
When a tornado forms over water and basically becomes a rotating column of water instead of air the tornado is called a water spout.
Tornado intensity and strength is measured using the Fujita Scale and it is as follows:
Courtesy of the Tornado Project
F0 Gale tornado 40-72 mph
Some damage to chimneys; breaks branches off trees; pushes over shallow-rooted trees; damages sign boards.
F1 Moderate tornado 73-112 mph
The lower limit is the beginning of hurricane wind speed; peels surface off roofs; mobile homes pushed off foundations or overturned; moving autos pushed off the roads; attached garages may be destroyed.
F2 Significant tornado 113-157 mph
Considerable damage. Roofs torn off frame houses; mobile homes demolished; boxcars pushed over; large trees snapped or uprooted; light object missiles generated.
F3 Severe tornado 158-206 mph
Roof and some walls torn off well constructed houses; trains overturned; most trees in forest uprooted
F4 Devastating tornado 207-260 mph
Well-constructed houses leveled; structures with weak foundations blown off some distance; cars thrown and large missiles generated.
F5 Incredible tornado 261-318 mph
Strong frame houses lifted off foundations and carried considerable distances to disintegrate; automobile sized missiles fly through the air in excess of 100 meters; trees debarked; steel reinforced concrete structures badly damaged.
F6 Inconceivable tornado 319-379 mph
These winds are very unlikely. The small area of damage they might produce would probably not be recognizable along with the mess produced by F4 and F5 wind that would surround the F6 winds. Missiles, such as cars and refrigerators would do serious secondary damage that could not be directly identified as F6 damage. If this level is ever achieved, evidence for it might only be found in some manner of ground swirl pattern, for it may never be identifiable through engineering studies
There are usually tornado warnings posted when an area prone to them experiences heavy thunderstorms. The problem is we can't tell when or if they will develop. If you live in a tornado prone area make sure to listen to your weather radio or watch TV. If you hear the tell tale tornado warning siren in your area, get to safety immediately, there is no time to "grab things"...get your ass into your storm cellar if you have one. If you don't have a storm cellar or a safe room, go to the lowest floor of a well built structure and to an interior room. If you have a cast iron tub you can get inside that.
If you are in a mobile home or trailer...GET OUT...no matter how well tied down they are they stand no chance in the event of a tornado.
If you are in a vehicle and are trapped (downed power lines in one direction and tornado in the other for example) do not stay in the vehicle and DO NOT hide under an overpass, that is a total myth due to a video circulating of people surviving doing that. That is bad information that has inadvertently been assumed by folks after seeing the video (those people were just lucky). If you are trapped in the open find a ditch or depression in the ground and lay face down, at that point make peace with you maker and hope for the best. You cannot outrun a tornado.
Flying debris is the biggest killer in tornados. Tests have shown a 2x4 can be driven through a steel plate with the wind intensity a tornado produces. All hope is not lost there are many stories of folks who were sucked into a tornado and miraculously deposited safely up to 1/2 mile away (albeit banged up pretty good).
Tornados are a thing of beauty but also something that should be respected due to the damage and destruction that can cause. If you live in an area prone to them, consider building a storm cellar or safe room and then hope you never need to use it!
Storm Safe Rooms
The Tornado Project
FEMA Tornado Information
...that is all.
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