What makes a tornado spin?

Tornadoes, also called twisters, are violent storms with the fastest winds on the planet. Tornadoes are tall, thin funnels of spiraling winds that stretch down from cumulonimbus clouds and touch the ground. Most tornadoes come from thunderstorms; however, most thunderstorms do not make tornadoes. Tornadoes are much smaller than hurricanes in the amount of land they cover and their duration, but they can still cause a tremendous amount of devastation in just a short time.

Tornadoes form over land. They begin when an updraft (a current of warm, moist air rising through a thunderstorm) meets a mass of cold, dry air. The rising warm air causes the cold air to be dragged down. The updraft rises higher and higher and then starts to spin, creating a funnel shape around a center point (called the eye). This is a tornado. The strong winds inside a tornado can reach speeds of up to 300 miles per hour, and they can suck up entire cars, trees, and even houses!

Tornadoes die out when they reach colder ground or when the cumulonimbus clouds above them break up.

Photo #: 77526401

What is the difference between “weather” and “climate”?

Weather is what it is like outside on a particular day; it can change on a daily basis. Climate is the average pattern of weather in a particular place over a long period of time.

The elements that make up a climate – such as the region’s average temperature and rainfall – are long-lasting and do not change from day to day. One day’s weather doesn’t have anything to do with the climate. For example, the climate in Naples, Florida is tropical, so even if today the weather happens to be cool in Naples, its classification as a tropical climate would not change.

There are many different types of climates around the globe. The type of climate that a region has depends on various factors, such as how close or how far the region is from the ocean and the amount of sunlight the region receives.

What is a hurricane?

Hurricanes are of the most dangerous storms on the planet. A hurricane can stretch up to 600 miles wide and have strong wind speeds of 74 to 200 mph. Each hurricane usually lasts for over a week.

Hurricanes form near the Equator, in the area where contrasting winds meet. This area is called the Intertropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ). A combination of heat and moisture is necessary for the storm to get started. As the winds swirl around, they cause moisture to condense in the air. When this happens, heat increases, until gradually a cyclone forms over the water. While hurricanes are still over the ocean, they have an endless supply of water, so they can grow continuously.

There are a few stages that the storm goes through until it becomes a hurricane. The first stage is called a tropical disturbance. This is a system of clouds, showers, and thunderstorms that originates in the tropics (near the Equator) and remains intact for twenty-four hours or more. After that, the storm becomes a tropical depression, in which winds can reach speeds of up to 38 mph. The third stage is called a tropical storm, which has wind speeds of 39 to 73 mph. Once the storm’s winds reach 74 mph or more, it is known as a hurricane.

A hurricane’s strong winds are dangerous, but it is when the storm reaches land that it inflicts the most damage. The flooding rains and the surging seas often destroy homes, buildings, and entire towns.

Question of the Month:

This month’s question was submitted by Eric of Brooklyn, NY.

Q: Dear Professor, What is the difference between a hurricane and a typhoon?

A: Dear Eric, Hurricanes, typhoons, and cyclones are all the same type of storm; it’s just that people in different places refer to them by different names. In the Americas they are called hurricanes; in East Asia they are called typhoons; and in Australia and the Indian Ocean they are called cyclones.