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Physics of a Tornado

College Physics Paper

Beautiful Tornado Picture

Tornadoes are considered intensely hazardous weather phenomenons and are widely studied in the United States today!

A tornado is a rapid rotating column of air that sometimes touches the ground and in other cases doesn't reach the ground. When tornadoes haven't reached the ground they are called funnel clouds. When funnel clouds are spotted they are closely watched and studied to determine the severity and direction in which it is moving.

Tornadoes are extremely devastating additions to storms. Tornadoes can damage homes, cars, and even cause deaths of not only animals, but also people.

The formation of tornadoes is from rapidly rotating super-cell thunderstorms. If you have enough rotation and wind shear in the atmosphere dip in the jet streams, there are great possibilities of tornado formation.

Tornadoes can be compared to an ice skater bringing their arms in to pick up speed while they are rotating. Tornadoes not only move mainly northeast, but they also tug as they travel. The tornado moves constantly with the super cell it is a part of while stretching to the ground, which causes its rotation in a smaller axis and makes the tornado gain speed, thickness, and strength.

There are four main phases to tornadoes: The Birth stage, the Formation stage where funnel cloud becomes visible, the Maturity stage where strengthening occurs and where a lot of damage takes place, and the Dissipation stage, where it loses its air supply and causes weakening.

So now here comes the fun part! The different physical properties behind tornadoes are actually pretty cool!

Tornadoes consist of Angular Momentum! The angular momentum is when the tornadoes move along the surface in relation to the super cell storm causing stretching, which I said before was similar to an ice skater bringing their arms in to increase speed. The equation used is L=mvr with L being the total angular momentum, r being the radius, v being tangential velocity, and m being mass! When there’s a decrease in the radius, there is a tangential velocity increase. That doesn’t always mean skinnier tornadoes are more powerful, though; that all depends on the size prior to the stretching!

Tornadoes also use Rotational Force! The equation for this is F=ma=mv^2/r. When the wind rotates around the core, it puts force on the core. As a result, tension between the core and outer winds are created. This causes the core to exert its own force while counteracting with this tension.

Mass of course is hard at times to measure in both equations, due to the fact that tornadoes are mostly air!

There are two other equations used with tornadoes but they usually confuse us in solving. They are the Coriolis Effect and Archimedes Effect.

The Coriolis Effect is a force that acts and helps in the development of rotation in cyclonic weather systems.  

The Archimedes Effect deals with pressure due to fluid; an area is given and a force is calculated.

The most important thing is to be careful around tornadoes no matter the size. They are not only cool to watch, but they are also extremely dangerous. It's important to remember that a tornado can ruin and destroy anything in its path.

***If you enjoyed my research paper for physics, don't be afraid to leave a tip! Thank you!***


• Daily Mail, The terrifying moment tornado hits land as scientists reveal it was 600 times more powerful that the Hiroshima bomb, May 21, 2013, Meghan Keneally


• Tornatoes, April 23, 2015, Buena Vista Cocial Club


• Physics Today, What we know and don’t know about tornado formation, September 2016, Paul Markowski and Yvette Richardson


Shae Nicole
Shae Nicole

Hello! I Hope You All Love What I Focus My Mind And Studies On. I Am A Former Student Of Texas A&M University - Kingsville Where I Obtained A Biomedical Sciences Bachelors In May 2018. I Hope You All Enjoy My Research As Much As I Did!

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Physics of a Tornado
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