Tornadoes Are Formed Differently To What Was Believed

Posted: Dec 22 2018, 4:55am CST | by , Updated: Dec 22 2018, 5:00am CST, in Latest Science News


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Tornadoes are Formed Differently to What was Believed
Credit: UW-Madison

For the first time, new observational evidence shows that tornadoes actually form from the ground up, contrary to the long-held concept.

New groundbreaking research indicates that existing theory of the formation of tornado may be mistaken.

There have been a number of conflicting theories about how tornadoes form but the most widely accepted was that tornadoes are born from rotation that starts several kilometers above Earth's surface, inside storm clouds. Then, the tornado wind in the form of rotating funnel gradually descends and makes contact with the ground. But new observational evidence shows that tornado actually form from the ground up, not from the top down.

It is a critical step toward better understanding of tornadoes and can greatly enhance our ability to predict conditions capable of producing tornadoes because these events are quick to form, hard to predict and can cause significant property damage.

“We need to reconsider the paradigms that we have to explain tornado formation, and we especially need to communicate this to forecasters who are trying to make warnings and issue warnings," said co-author Jana Houser, a meteorologist at Ohio University in Athens. “Based on our results, it does not look like you are going to really ever be finding strong evidence of a tornado descending, so we need to stop making that a priority in our forecasting strategies."

Houser and here colleagues are the first to use data obtained from a modern radar system that collects data very rapidly. Specifically, the observations from El Reno tornado contributed to the new understanding of tornado formation. The particular tornado was formed in central Oklahoma on May 31, 2013. It was the world’s widest tornado and also holds the record for second-highest wind speeds. When El Reno tornado occurred, Houser and a team of researchers from the University of Oklahoma happened to be monitoring the storm with a new type of mobile Doppler radar system. The new system collects tornado wind speeds every 30 seconds.

Later, Houser compared her radar data with hundreds of still photos and videos obtained from different sources and noticed something unusual. The resulting data clearly showed a visible rotation at the ground several minutes before it was picked it up at higher altitudes.

The study indicates that tornadoes actually develop at the ground and move up rapidly, contrary to the long-held hypothesis that tornadoes form at cloud level and then touch down on earth.

“The coupled visual and near-surface radar observations from the El Reno 2013 case enable an analysis of the tornadogenesis process that has never before been obtained, providing a missing link in the story of tornado formation: the rotation associated with the tornado was clearly present at the surface first," said Houser. "We need to strategize how we're issuing warnings a little bit differently. The way we're doing it, we're never going to get an improvement on our warning system.”

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<a href="/latest_stories/all/all/47" rel="author">Hira Bashir</a>
The latest discoveries in science are the passion of Hira Bashir (). With years of experience, she is able to spot the most interesting new achievements of scientists around the world and cover them in easy to understand reporting.




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