Tornadoes

Growing up in "Tornado Alley"

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Headline on the front page of the newspaper the day after the 1925 tornado outbreak (Source: weather.org) Headline on the front page of the newspaper the day after the 1925 tornado outbreak (Source: weather.org)
Headline on the front page of the newspaper the day after the 1925 tornado outbreak (Source: weather.org) Headline on the front page of the newspaper the day after the 1925 tornado outbreak (Source: weather.org)
Simple diagram of a tornado Simple diagram of a tornado
PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) -

Who could ever forget the 1996 disaster film Twister. The story of a meteorologist and weather researcher who set out to chase storms in Oklahoma. In fact a device used in the movie, called "Dorothy", is copied from the real-life TOTO, used in the 1980s by the National Severe Storms Laboratory (NSSL).

I was born in Kansas City, Missouri, part of “Tornado Alley." I remember as a kid being so afraid but so fascinated by the storms that produced tornadoes. My mom says that I was the only one in the family running out the front door to look at the storm, instead of running downstairs to our basement. Even when we would do our tornado drills at school I didn't want to hide under my desk, I wanted to be outside investigating, watching this force of Mother Nature that could topple trees and blow houses down.

[RELATED: See the first photo of a tornado in Arizona]

My best memory of Kansas City thunderstorms was my mom waking me up in the middle of the night with my rain coat and boots in her hand and saying, "Get dressed. We are going for a walk in the rain." So I guess this is where and when my love of weather began. Let’s be honest, I still run outside the second I hear the roar of thunder.

So I thought this week, I’d do my weather blog about tornadoes. There is so much information, so this is just a taste. 

[SPECIAL SECTION: Weather blog]

Tornadoes have been observed on every continent except Antarctica. What is a tornado? A tornado is a violently rotating column of air, in contact with the ground, either pendant from a cumuliform cloud or underneath a cumuliform cloud, and visible as a funnel cloud. They come in many shapes, sizes and strengths.

The Fujita scale rates tornadoes by damage caused. An F0 or EF0 tornado, the weakest category, damages trees, but not substantial structures. An F5 or EF5 tornado, the strongest category, rips buildings off their foundations and can deform large skyscrapers.

They are also referred to as twisters, whirlwinds and cyclones. And there are various types of tornadoes. Over water they are called waterspouts, due to them forming over water. In tropical or desert locations gustnados, dust devils, fire whirls and steam devils.

[RELATED: Tornado hits Mesa in rare weather event]

In the U.S., the vast majority occur in Tornado Alley, which doesn’t have an exact mapped out location and has never been officially designated by the National Weather Service.

Fun fact: The term "Tornado Alley" was first used in 1952 by U.S. Air Force meteorologists Major Ernest J. Fawbush and Capt. Robert C. Miller as the title of a research project to study severe weather in parts of Texas and Oklahoma.

But typically we consider "Tornado Alley" to be a portion of the central Midwest, including Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri, Iowa, Nebraska and South Dakota. The average number of tornadoes in this area is 9-12 per season.

[RELATED: Arizona storm chaser killed in crash while tracking Texas tornado]

Record breaking tornadoes: The all-time biggest and strongest tornado on record hit parts of Missouri, Illinois and Indiana on March 18, 1925. Traveling 219 miles, lasting 3 and a half hours with speeds of 73 mph.

The most extensive on record was in 2011, the Super-cell Outbreak, spawned 362 confirmed tornadoes over the southeastern United States. Two hundred eighteen of them touched down within 24 hours.

Tornadoes are still a mystery. Even though we have studied them intensely for 60 years and have learned plenty about them, there are still many unanswered questions. 

[SPECIAL SECTION: Monsoon 2017]

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Copyright 2017 KPHO/KTVK (KPHO Broadcasting Corporation). All rights reserved.


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