Of all the destructive powers in our world, none can quite measure up to nature’s fury. We’ve all heard of or maybe even had firsthand experience with a natural disaster of some sort.
Whether it was the ground shaking and breaking apart to swallow up buildings, hot lava spewing from volcanoes, towering waves that can drown entire cities, and twisters that descend menacingly from the clouds at shocking speeds, tearing up everything in their paths, these events remind us that we humans are at the mercy of natural forces.
Tornadoes remain among one of the most elusive, powerful, and catastrophic phenomena on Earth. A tornado is a violently rotating column of air that develops from a thunderstorm and is in contact with the ground’s surface. For years, researchers have been trying to figure out just how exactly they form.
Scientists have been studying tornadoes since the mid-twentieth century, so they’ve managed to collect enough information to determine what criteria are needed for a twister to spring up.
Most violent tornadoes are generated by supercell thunderstorms. Supercells are unique from all other types of thunderstorms since they contain a strongly rotating updraft called a mesocyclone.
The rotation comes from wind shear, which causes the wind nearer to the ground to start spinning horizontally. Then, the winds become vertically oriented within an updraft.
Not all supercells form tornadoes, though. In order for a supercell to turn into a tornado, the mesocyclone needs to get the air closer to the ground to start rotating, creating a vortex. The vortex has to be stretched upward, speeding up the twister’s rotation.
In search of more answers, researchers have been chasing storms and studying the atmosphere around them with cutting-edge technology.
The development of Doppler radar around 1945 was groundbreaking for scientists observing thunderstorms.