Couldn't find element LayerAd

Error finding content

Tornado Formation - Windows to the Universe

Shop Windows to the Universe

Check out the fun Earth science related bumper stickers in our online store! Express yourself!
Atmospheric conditions typical during tornado formation.

How a Tornado Forms

A tornado begins in a severe thunderstorm called a supercell. Scientists aren't exactly sure why, but air coming into the storm begins to swirl and forms a funnel. The air inside the funnel spins so fast it pulls in more air--and objects! The funnel is kind of like a big vacuum cleaner.

The air pressure is very low inside the funnel, just like pressure is low inside the eye of a hurricane. Only in a tornado, the pressure is a lot lower--lower than any other place on earth.

Tornadoes can form when the atmosphere is unstable. One other thing that's needed is a front, a place where warm moist air meets cold dry air. This happens a lot in the Great Plains of the United States which is why it's called Tornado Alley.

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.

Windows to the Universe Community

News

Opportunities

You might also be interested in:

Ready, Set, SCIENCE!: Putting Research to Work in K-8 Science Classrooms

What types of instructional experiences help K-8 students learn science with understanding? What do science educators teachers, teacher leaders, science specialists, professional development staff, curriculum designers, school administrators need to know to create and support such experiences?...more

Tornadoes

Tornadoes form from severe thunderstorms. They are very destructive because they have a high energy density. They also don't last very long. This makes it hard to learn about them. Since scientists don't...more

Tornado Forecasts

Tornadoes are hard to forecast. They don't last very long so there's not much time to figure out what's happening. Also, scientists don't really know how they form. They know what the weather's like when...more

Tornado Notification

Tornadoes are very dangerous. This is why it's important to know when they are going to form. Forecastors at the National Weather Service are always looking for storms that could pop up. Nobody knows exactly...more

Tornado Lookouts

Meteorologists use radar to forecast where tonadoes might form. But, the radar can't detect actual tornadoes. People are needed for that. That's a problem because people without any training don't know...more

Wave Beats

Sound travels in waves. When the waves hit your ear, you hear a sound. Have you ever noticed the waves in the ocean? They go up and down, up and down. Sound waves act the same way. The number of times...more

Chasing Tornadoes

Storm chasers are different than storm spotters. Chasers travel around Tornado Alley looking for severe storms and tornadoes. Sometime there are dozens of chasers following the same storm. All kinds of...more

Energy Density

A tornado is the most destructive natural storm. You might think that this also means that tornadoes are the strongest storms; that's not the case. In fact, a thunderstorm which produces a tornado can...more

Windows to the Universe, a project of the National Earth Science Teachers Association, is sponsored in part by the National Science Foundation and NASA, our Founding Partners (the American Geophysical Union and American Geosciences Institute) as well as through Institutional, Contributing, and Affiliate Partners, individual memberships and generous donors. Thank you for your support! NASA AGU AGI NSF