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Tornadoes – also known as “twisters” – are violently rotating columns of air that reach from a storm cloud to the earth’s surface.
The winds of a tornado can reach speeds of up to 480km per hour – that’s strong enough to peel the roofs off houses, uproot trees and hurl heavy objects, such as cars, hundreds of metres! Most tornadoes have wind speeds less than 100 miles per hour (161 kilometres per hour).
Tornadoes come in different shapes and sizes. Some may appear as wide funnel-shaped clouds, others as thin rope-like swirls stretching from the ground to the sky.
The duration of tornadoes, and the distance they travel, varies. Most last less than ten minutes and travel five to ten kilometres before disappearing. In extreme cases, however, they can last several hours and cross distances over 150km!
Tornadoes are measured using the Fujita Scale (or F-scale), ranging from F0 to F5, with F5 being the strongest and most destructive.
The deadliest tornado ever recorded was in Bangladesh in 1989. As it travelled through the Dhaka region of the country, more than 20 villages were destroyed and around 1,300 people were killed.
Most of the world’s tornadoes occur in the United States in what’s known as Tornado Alley. Stretching from west Texas to North Dakota, this area can see more than 200 tornadoes each year!
If a tornado occurs over water, it’s called a waterspout.
Not all tornadoes are easy to see. In fact, they can be invisible until they pick up dust and debris, or a cloud forms within the spinning funnel.
In the southern hemisphere tornadoes usually rotate in a clockwise direction.
In the northern hemisphere tornadoes usually rotate in a counterclockwise direction.
The formation of a tornado is so complex that scientists still don’t completely understand it. And what’s more, the unpredictability of tornadoes makes them difficult – and dangerous – to study. A tornado will demolish everything in its path, including measuring equipment. And so, the secrets behind this incredible force of nature are yet to be discovered…
Basements and other underground areas are the safest places to seek refuge during a tornado. It is also a good idea to stay away from windows.