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A tornado is a rapidly rotating column of air that is in contact with both the surface of the Earth and a cumulonimbus cloud or, in rare cases, the base of a cumulus cloud. They are often referred to as twisters, whirlwinds or cyclones, although the word cyclone is used in meteorology to name a weather system with a low-pressure area in the center around which winds blow counterclockwise in the Northern Hemisphere and clockwise in the Southern. Tornadoes come in many shapes and sizes, and they are often visible in the form of a condensation funnel originating from the base of a cumulonimbus cloud, with a cloud of rotating debris and dust beneath it. Most tornadoes have wind speeds less than 110 miles per hour (180 km/h), are about 250 feet (80 m) across, and travel a few miles (several kilometers) before dissipating. The most extreme tornadoes can attain wind speeds of more than 300 miles per hour (480 km/h), are more than two miles (3 km) in diameter, and stay on the ground for dozens of miles (more than 100 km).

Various types of tornadoes include the multiple vortex tornado, landspout and waterspout. Waterspouts are characterized by a spiraling funnel-shaped wind current, connecting to a large cumulus or cumulonimbus cloud. They are generally classified as non-supercellular tornadoes that develop over bodies of water, but there is disagreement over whether to classify them as true tornadoes. These spiraling columns of air frequently develop in tropical areas close to the equator, and are less common at high latitudes. Other tornado-like phenomena that exist in nature include the gustnado, dust devil, fire whirls, and steam devil.

Tornadoes occur in North America, particularly in the area of the United States known as tornado alley, as well as in northern and east-central South America, Southern Africa, northwestern and southeast Europe, western and southeastern Australia, and New Zealand. Tornadoes can be detected before or as they occur through the use of Pulse-Doppler radar by recognizing patterns in velocity and reflectivity data, such as hook echoes or debris balls, as well as through the efforts of storm spotters.

There are several scales for rating the strength of tornadoes. The Fujita scale rates tornadoes by damage caused and has been replaced in some countries by the updated Enhanced Fujita Scale. An F0 or EF0 tornado, the weakest category, damages trees, but not substantial structures. An F5 or EF5 tornado, the strongest category, rips buildings off their foundations and can deform large skyscrapers. The similar TORRO scale ranges from a T0 for extremely weak tornadoes to T11 for the most powerful known tornadoes. Doppler radar data, photogrammetry, and ground swirl patterns (cycloidal marks) may also be analyzed to determine intensity and assign a rating

Types of Tornadoes:

  1. Multiple vortex

    A multiple-vortex tornado outside Dallas, Texas on April 2, 1957.

    A multiple-vortex tornado outside Dallas, Texas on April 2, 1957.

    A multiple-vortex tornado is a type of tornado in which two or more columns of spinning air rotate about their own axis and at the same time around a common center. A multi-vortex structure can occur in almost any circulation, but is very often observed in intense tornadoes. These vortices often create small areas of heavier damage along the main tornado path. This is a phenomenon that is distinct from a satellite tornado, which is a smaller tornado which forms very near a large, strong tornado contained within the same mesocyclone. The satellite tornado may appear to "orbit" the larger tornado (hence the name), giving the appearance of one, large multi-vortex tornado. However, a satellite tornado is a distinct circulation, and is much smaller than the main funnel.

  2. Waterspout

    A waterspout near the Florida Keys in 1969.

    A waterspout near the Florida Keys in 1969.

    The 1960 Chilean earthquake is the largest earthquake that has been measured on a seismograph, reaching 9.5 magnitude on 22 May 1960. Its epicenter was near CaƱete, Chile. The energy released was approximately twice that of the next most powerful earthquake, the Good Friday earthquake (March 27, 1964) which was centered in Prince William Sound, Alaska. The ten largest recorded earthquakes have all been megathrust earthquakes; however, of these ten, only the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake is simultaneously one of the deadliest earthquakes in history.

  3. Landspout


    A landspout, or dust-tube tornado, is a tornado not associated with a mesocyclone. The name stems from their characterization as a "fair weather waterspout on land". Waterspouts and landspouts share many defining characteristics, including relative weakness, short lifespan, and a small, smooth condensation funnel which often does not reach the surface. Landspouts also create a distinctively laminar cloud of dust when they make contact with the ground, due to their differing mechanics from true mesoform tornadoes. Though usually weaker than classic tornadoes, they can produce strong winds which could cause serious damage.

  4. Gustnado


    A dust devil in Arizona

    A gustnado, or gust front tornado, is a small, vertical swirl associated with a gust front or downburst. Because they are not connected with a cloud base, there is some debate as to whether or not gustnadoes are tornadoes. They are formed when fast moving cold, dry outflow air from a thunderstorm is blown through a mass of stationary, warm, moist air near the outflow boundary, resulting in a "rolling" effect (often exemplified through a roll cloud). If low level wind shear is strong enough, the rotation can be turned vertically or diagonally and make contact with the ground. The result is a gustnado. They usually cause small areas of heavier rotational wind damage among areas of straight-line wind damage.

  5. Dust devil

    Dust devil

    A dust devil (also known as a whirlwind) resembles a tornado in that it is a vertical swirling column of air. However, they form under clear skies and are no stronger than the weakest tornadoes. They form when a strong convective updraft is formed near the ground on a hot day. If there is enough low level wind shear, the column of hot, rising air can develop a small cyclonic motion that can be seen near the ground. They are not considered tornadoes because they form during fair weather and are not associated with any clouds. However, they can, on occasion, result in major damage.

  6. Fire whirls

    Fire whirls

    Small-scale, tornado-like circulations can occur near any intense surface heat source. Those that occur near intense wildfires are called fire whirls. They are not considered tornadoes, except in the rare case where they connect to a pyrocumulus or other cumuliform cloud above. Fire whirls usually are not as strong as tornadoes associated with thunderstorms. They can, however, produce significant damage.

  7. Steam devils

    Steam devils

    A steam devil is a rotating updraft between 50 and 200 meters wide that involves steam or smoke. These formations do not involve high wind speeds, only completing a few rotations per minute. Steam devils are very rare. They most often form from smoke issuing from a power plant's smokestack. Hot springs and deserts may also be suitable locations for a tighter, faster-rotating steam devil to form. The phenomenon can occur over water, when cold arctic air passes over relatively warm water.

Some interesting pictures of Tornado in action:

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