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What is a Tornado and Where do They Occur?

One of the most fascinating and frightening storms in the world is the tornado. This rapidly rotating storm is one of nature’s most destructive forces and the fact is, scientists aren’t completely sure how they form; and why one thunderstorm will produce one and another will not.

Where Do They Occur?

Tornadoes form almost anywhere in the world; including, Australia, Africa, Asia, South America, Europe and North America. While many areas around the world do have the potential for tornadoes, the majority of them form in the United States; mainly around an area known as “Tornado Alley.” This region in the United States actually sees approximately 1,200 of these storms each year.

Tornado Alley is situated in the central United States within such states as Illinois, Indiana, Oklahoma, Kansas and Texas. Of course, violent tornadoes do happen outside of the famed tornado alley as well, and there is a region known as “Dixie Alley” which includes states such as Georgia, Mississippi and Missouri which sees a relatively high amount of tornadoes per year.

When Does a Tornado Form?

The time of year a tornado forms changes depending on geographical location; for example, the Gulf States has their share of tornadoes during the early spring, while the Midwest sees their highest concentration during June or July. The Southern Plains gets the majority of their tornadoes during May into early June. However, tornadoes do occur at any time during the year and at any time during the day or night.

Tornado Warning or Watch

A tornado watch means there is the potential for the development of tornadoes. This usually happens when the weather conditions are right for the development of super-cell thunderstorms which could spawn a tornado.

A warning means, a spotter has visually seen a funnel cloud or a tornado on the ground, or radar has picked up a tornado signature. If a tornado warning has been issued, it is advisable to take cover immediately.

Tornado Rating System

Tornadoes are rated based on their strength, wind speed and damage path. Tornadoes are rated on a scale ranging from EF-0 to EF-5. The Enhanced Fujita Scale replaced the Fujita Scale in 2007 and takes into account wind speeds and incorporates 28 damage factors into the rating; including building type, structures and trees.

Not all tornadoes produce a lot of damage, but can still be dangerous. Always heed warnings when they occur and keep an eye out during severe weather occurrences.