What Causes a Tornado? Fact and Figures

Going by statistics, tornadoes are considered to be among the worst and most violent types of storms in the entire realm of nature. And it is thus not surprising that an average total of more than 800 tornadoes are reported every year. These result in more than 100 deaths annually and thousands of related injuries, not to mention destruction hundreds of millions of dollars worth of property. That should leave no doubt whatsoever that tornadoes are a worldwide phenomenon that encircles almost all continents from Africa to Asia with Antarctica being the only exception.

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But what exactly causes tornadoes?

From a geographic and scientific point of view, tornadoes are what happens when masses of air of different temperatures and levels of humidity meet. In the United States, for instance, warm and wet winds from the gulf of Mexico in the spring and early summer often meet with the cold and often dry winds emanating from the Southern Canadian fronts.

As it usually happens, as the warm air rises, the cold air traps it beneath it. And since the warm air can no longer move upward, it starts rotating. The frequency of the rotation increases several times as the sun heats up the ground and thus resulting in more warmer air. After this, it only requires a few hours for the newly formed warm air to push the colder air beneath it and in the process create a rapidly rotating column of air that can even span over 10 miles and twisting at speeds of over 210 mph or just about 350km/h.

Usually, this spinning column of air is often invisible and can remain unseen until it has picked enough debris and dust for the shape to be visible.

Most often than not, tornadoes can last as short as a minute or as long as several hours. When this happens, they will often leave a trail of destruction in a radius of even up to 10 miles wide ( 16 kilometers ).