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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.

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Last modified March 26, 2010 by Randy Russell.

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Windows to the Universe, a project of the National Earth Science Teachers Association, is sponsored in part is sponsored in part through grants from federal agencies (NASA and NOAA), and partnerships with affiliated organizations, including the American Geophysical Union, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Earth System Information Partnership, the American Meteorological Society, the National Center for Science Education, and TERC. The American Geophysical Union and the American Geosciences Institute are Windows to the Universe Founding Partners. NESTA welcomes new Institutional Affiliates in support of our ongoing programs, as well as collaborations on new projects. Contact NESTA for more information. NASA ESIP NCSE HHMI AGU AGI AMS NOAA