How is a tornado formed?

A tornado is a compact and often devastating whirlwind. In the complex build-up to a fully fledged tornado, warm, humid air spirals upwards beneath a large thundercloud. The rotation of air about the tornado's central axis becomes faster and faster, like that of figure skater. Finally, a funnel appears on the underside of the cloud which gradually descends towards the Earth's surface. This creates a vortex, and as soon as this column of rotating air touches the ground, everything in its path is hurled skyward. Scientists still don't know exactly what the mechanisms are that lead to the creation of a tornado.

 While their effects are usually limited to relatively small areas, tornadoes can form in almost any part of the world where heavy rain and thunderstorms occur. In the USA they occur most frequently in an area of the Midwest known as Tornado Alley, and it is here that they have been most intuitively researched. In Tornado Alley, scientists can observe between 500 and 600 tornadoes each year. Because of the publicity given to American storms, the term tornado has gradually replaced the European term whirlwind.

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