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What Causes a Tornado?

by Shawn Joseph Gossman

Tornadoes! One of Mother Nature's most powerful weather anomalies, they hold no discrimination for their victims and they can either barely effect you or ruin everything. For years, scientists and storm chasers have been studying these severe weather events and the exact cause and formation is still said to not be 100% accurate. A tornado is chaotic and can do things that we in the meteorology industry just do not understand. However, there are symptoms of tornado potential that the public can look for to better the chances of safely living through and tornado event in their area.


Have you ever seen those huge nasty looking clouds that are associated with severe weather? Have you truly looked at them to see every detail? If you can ever do it in a safe manner, look up at them and watch closely. If you notice the base rotating, you could be looking at a rotating wall cloud! If that is the case, this cloud (storm) can produce a tornado at any time and safety measure should be taken very quickly at this point.


Remember the movie Twister? The parts of the movie where farm equipment, trees and cows were flying all around! That is what we call debris and debris can be as dangerous as the tornado itself because it is blowing with force like some sort of missile. So if you see a lot of debris from a distance, it is likely that a tornado is on the ground and currently destroying property as we speak. At this point, you should seek shelter as quick as you can.


Many storm chasers and spotters report that a tornado sounds like the roar of a freight train. I have personally heard this sound and I think it's more like a freight train derailing than anything else. The sound is coming from all the wind that it is producing as well as items that it is destroying. At this point, it would be a good idea to seek shelter as quickly as possible. The roar isn't always a tornado though, sometime it is actually just wind but if it's making that loud of a noise, chances are it can be a direct hazard to anyone in its path.

Power Flash

A power flash is better seen at night! It is when a tornado or extremely high wind event takes out telephone wires and poles. You will see the electrical surge of light flashing when the wire is snapped or the poles is taken down. At this point, there is either a tornado on the ground damaging the telephone pole system or there is extremely high wind. You should take shelter as quick as you can to avoid being in the path of the storm.

I hope these tornado signs help to keep you safe!

Shawn Gossman is the founder of the official message forum for the National Skywarn Program website. Shawn has been a Skywarn storm spotter and storm chaser for over 15 years.


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