Tornadoes are formed in large thunderstorms, or supercell thunderstorms, which are characterized by a rotating updraft of air. The formation of a tornado requires several factors to come together in a particular way:
1. A source of warm, moist air from the Gulf of Mexico or another body of water is needed to provide the energy and moisture needed to fuel the storm.
2. A change in wind speed and direction with height, known as wind shear, is necessary to create a horizontal spinning effect in the atmosphere.
3. An updraft within the storm must be strong enough to lift the rotating horizontal air upwards and tilt it into a vertical position.
4. A downdraft from the storm’s rear flank downdraft (RFD) can also create a circulation that interacts with the updraft to create a tornado.
Once the conditions are right, a rotating column of air can form, which starts to narrow and speed up as it is drawn into the storm’s updraft. This creates a vortex, which can sometimes be visible as a funnel cloud. The funnel cloud can then touch down on the ground, creating a tornado.
Tornadoes are unpredictable and can form quickly, which is why it’s important to have a safety plan in place and be prepared for severe weather conditions.