Video courtesy of the Little Shop of Physics.
Extreme Winds - Tornadoes and Hurricanes
The spinning of the Earth causes winds to move in a circular motion. How does this motion sometimes speed up to produce the dramatic winds of a hurricane or tornado?
The key is what we call angular momentum. A large object, spinning slowly, will speed up dramatically when its diameter shrinks, just as a skater can spin faster by pulling her arms in.
This is precisely what causes the birth of extreme winds - when a spinning air mass gets pulled tighter, it spins faster, leading to the high wind speeds of tornadoes and hurricanes.
Right-click (Windows) or Option-click (Mac) here to download a copy of this video in QuickTime format.
Click here to learn more about the Little Shop of Physics.
Shop Windows to the Universe Science Store!
The Fall 2009 issue of The Earth Scientist
, which includes articles on student research into building design for earthquakes and a classroom lab on the composition of the Earth’s ancient atmosphere, is available in our online store
You might also be interested in:
Most tornadoes form in a part of a supercell thunderstorm called a mesocyclone. The mesocyclone draws energy into the storm so it can last for hours. Scientists aren't sure why, but some can create tornadoes....more
As a strong hurricane heads towards a vulnerable coast, people take precautions - boarding up houses, packing the car, and evacuating. These massive storms can spell disaster for people in hurricane prone...more
Wind is moving air. Warm air rises, and cool air comes in to take its place. This movement creates different pressures in the atmosphere which creates the winds around the globe. Since the Earth spins,...more
Rainbows appear in the sky when there is bright sunlight and rain. Sunlight is known as visible or white light and is actually a mixture of colors. Rainbows result from the refraction and reflection of...more
The Earth travels around the sun one full time per year. During this year, the seasons change depending on the amount of sunlight reaching the surface and the Earth's tilt as it revolves around the sun....more
Scientists sometimes travel in specially outfitted airplanes in order to gather data about atmospheric conditions. These research aircraft have special inlet ports that bring air from the outside into...more
An anemometer is a weather instrument used to measure the wind (it can also be called a wind gauge). Anemometers can measure wind speed, wind direction, and other information like the largest gust of wind...more