What's the strangest thing about tornadoes

Tornadoes: The Science Behind the Power of Destruction

Even if the weather phenomena can occur all year round at any time of the day or night, they accumulate in Germany especially from May to September. It is estimated that between 30 and 60 tornadoes occur in this country each year.

In many countries around the world, the strength of tornadoes is determined using the Fujita scale or the Enhanced Fujita scale. For example, a tornado of magnitude 0 on the scale can damage trees, while a tornado of the strongest category (F5) can demolish entire buildings.

Since the measurement of the wind speed within a tornado is extremely difficult to accomplish, the scientists normally fall back on the damage caused in order to deduce the speed retrospectively.

Difficult prediction

Tornadoes are much more difficult to predict than hurricanes, for example, because these larger storms have a longer lifespan. According to the NOAA, the time between a tornado warning - i.e. the sighting of a tornado - and the arrival of the tornado is an average of 13 minutes.

The research project Warn-on-Forecast of the US National Severe Weather Laboratory tries to improve such forecasts. According to Brooks, the work is difficult.

The project uses powerful computers and software to process data on temperature, humidity and atmospheric variables. Sometimes the system makes “really good predictions, and sometimes it doesn't,” says Brooks.

(Learn how the weather changed human history.)

But, he notes, the faster the computers and the more accurate the data, the more the accuracy of the predictions could increase. In the meantime, a better understanding of the processes in the atmosphere can also help to make decisions in other areas, for example when choosing the location for wind and solar plants.