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Damaging Air Winds: Kids Guide to Tornadoes

Authored by Dr. Jeff Bennert

Windy days can really stir things up and make it difficult to hold on to things that are important, like your umbrella or paper from school. Wind can also be pretty scary too, especially when that wind is a tornado. Known as twisters, tornadoes can tear down a house and can really hurt or even kill people who are in its path. An air purifier or air ionizer can be helpful when people have to seek shelter from tornadoes in basements or in areas that are underground and safe. An air purifier can help clean up pollutants in the air and an air ionizer can help neutralize or get rid of odors that stink. It is important to stay safe and breathe easy during a tornado, but it is just as important to understand it. Tornadoes are amazing and really interesting, too. Even if you don’t live in an area that has tornadoes, it’s really cool to understand how nature works in creating these awesome but deadly storms.

What are Tornadoes?

This is the first thing that kids need to know if they want to learn about tornadoes. During a thunderstorm, wind can rotate at high speeds and reach down from the clouds to touch the ground. These winds are going so fast that they can reach 300 miles per hour! That’s fast! These rotating winds are super strong and they can really destroy big things. For example, the winds from a tornado can pick up and hurl a car or truck! They can even pull huge trees from the ground!

How are They Formed?

Tornadoes are formed because there are certain conditions that are present. One of these conditions is moist or humid air. The moist warm air begins to rise quickly. The air that is rising blows at one speed and in a certain direction. The cold air that is higher above has changed its speed and blows in a different direction. This causes what is called a wind shear. The wind shear starts air rotating in a column. The column of air can get pulled into a supercell, which is a type of thunderstorm. The updraft from this supercell causes the spinning of the column to go faster and faster so that it creates a funnel. The funnel also rotates very fast and touches the ground. When this happens the tornado is formed.

Where are Tornadoes Common?

In the U.S. there is an area called the Great Plains. This area is centrally located and has the correct conditions for tornadoes to form. This area includes states such as Oklahoma, Nebraska, Texas, South Dakota, North Dakota, Kansas, Missouri, Arkansas, and Iowa. People refer to this area as Tornado Alley.

When are Tornadoes Most Common?

The peak season for tornadoes is from the month of March through the month of May for states in the southern parts of Tornado Alley. In the northern parts, tornadoes peak during the summer months. There are even peak hours for tornadoes! These peak hours are between 3p.m. and 9p.m.

Additional Resoucres

  • Tornadoes: Click this link to open the tornado page on the Weather Wiz Kids website. The information that is found on this site defines tornadoes, explains how they are formed, how they stop, and where they occur. Kids are also given popular tornado lingo to learn.
  • Severe Weather and Natural Disasters – Tornadoes: Learn the basics about tornadoes by clicking on this Scholastic Weather Watch page. The page tells how they are formed in three steps and there is also an illustration.
  • How Tornadoes Form: This is a link to the Web Weather for Kids page on the UCAR Center for Science Education website. On this page there are three steps with drawings to explain how tornadoes form.
  • Tornado Model by Sullivan and Alexa: Learn how to simulate a tornado and its effects by watching this PBS Kids episode on tornadoes.
  • Tornado – How Tornadoes Form: Read about how tornadoes form by clicking on this link to National Geographic Kids.
  • TFK Tells You About Twisters: On this TFK, or Time for Kids website, you’ll learn all about twisters, which are also known as tornadoes. Click the play button to watch the three minute educational video.
  • Tornado Facts!: Read up on tornado facts by clicking on this link to the UK National Geographic for Kids website. The page includes a slide-show of images with numbered facts beneath.
  • Tornados – Really Rapidly Rising Air: Kids can learn basic information about tornadoes on this Tree House Weather Kids site. Visitors can read the information or listen to the audio. Click on the next button for more information including information on Tornado Alley, detecting tornadoes, and more.
  • Animated Guide – Tornadoes: The BBC offers this web page to kids and other readers who want to learn about tornadoes. Click begin to start the animated tornado guide or download the PDF that explains them.
  • Tornado Birth: This is a very cool video to watch that shows a tornado forming. The video is on the Discovery Kids website and is only visual – no explanations are given.
  • Tornado Match-Up: Tornado match-up is a fun game from the Ohio Department of Public Safety website.
  • Be a Hero – Tornadoes: Get the facts about tornadoes by clicking on this Ready.gov link. This page covers everything from where tornadoes strike the most often to what tornadoes are. It also has some safety information mixed in with the educational info.
  • Natural Disaster Tornadoes: Kids can watch an interactive and informational guide about tornadoes on this page. The pace of the guide is controlled by clicking the next or back buttons.
  • Kid’s Tornado Quiz: FEMA provides this quiz to test kid’s knowledge on tornadoes. The quiz has ten questions and the answers can be found by clicking on the answers link.
  • The Mystery of Tornadoes: Watch this video about tornadoes on the NASA SciJinks website. The research engineer on the video explains what causes tornadoes, as well as where and how they form.