Tornadoes

Tornadoes (or twisters) are powerful funnels of air that spin very fast as they move across the landscape – a bit like the swirl you see when water goes down a plughole. They form over land during large thunderstorms and can create the fastest winds on earth – up to 300 mph (483 kph) – faster than the speediest racing car.

Tornadoes

When warm air from the ground rises and meets cold winds, the swirling air can tip over, and as more warm air gets sucked up a ‘funnel cloud’ forms and gets longer. When it touches the ground it becomes a tornado that is so strong it can destroy buildings, uproot trees and throw vehicles into the air.

Tornadoes are usually about 500 feet (152 metres) across, but some have reached almost 2 miles (3 km) wide. Although they can form almost anywhere in the world, the US has the most tornadoes (over 1,000 a year). One area that is particularly affected is known as ‘Tornado Alley’ – stretching from Texas to South Dakota and from Missouri to the Rocky Mountains.

In the film The Wizard of Oz, a tornado carries Dorothy away to a magical land. But don’t be tempted – tornadoes are incredibly dangerous! Instead, you should find shelter in a strong building, preferably in the basement or the ground floor.

Did you know?

  • Tornadoes rotate anticlockwise in the northern hemisphere and clockwise in the southern hemisphere. This is due to the Earth’s spin.
  • Tornadoes are measured using the Enhanced Fujita (EF) scale, according to their strength and the amount of damage they cause. The most violent cases (EF-5) are strong enough to twist skyscrapers and steel farm machinery.
  • The deadliest tornado killed about 1,300 people in Bangladesh in 1989. In the US, the worst tornado of recent times was in Joplin, Missouri, in 2011. This EF-5 tornado was a mile wide and had winds of 200 mph (322 kph). Over 160 people were killed and the city was devastated at a cost of over US$7.5 million.
  • In 1974, 149 tornadoes were seen in the south and mid-west USA in just 24 hours! Luckily, most only lasted a few minutes.

Case Study

In 2005, the suburbs of Birmingham in the UK experienced one of the strongest tornadoes recorded in the country for almost 30 years. With wind speeds of up to 145 mph (233 kph), buildings were damaged (particularly roofs), around 1,000 trees were uprooted and vehicles were flung into the air. Luckily no one was killed, but about 19 people suffered injuries, and the cleanup operation cost around £40 million.

Our Tornado Resources

Tornado Diary Worksheet

Tornado Diary Worksheet

This worksheet really gets the kids thinking about what it would be like to experience a hurricane. Can they imagine a tornado has hit where they live and write an account of the event in the diary?

Tornado Newspaper Writing Prompt

Tornado Newspaper Writing Prompt

Use this dramatic tornado newspaper writing prompt for writing a weather report about a tornado. The kids need to think about the impact of this extreme weather event or do a little research. An interesting activity for older kids learning about the weather! 

Tornado Poster 1

Tornado Poster 1

This amazing photo shows a tornado forming far out on the horizon, placed equidistant between two ships. It's a sight you wouldn't see often, and is sure to get the kids talking!

Tornado Poster 2

Tornado Poster 2

The skies are orange and black with a threatening thunderstorm - and a more threatening tornado. Print and display or put up on the whiteboard for discussion with the kids.

Tornado safety leaflet

Tornado Safety Leaflet

Here's an activity that's ideal for older kids learning about the weather. Can they create their own leaflet on how to stay safe during a tornado? Simply print and fold on the dotted lines to make a three-fold leaflet.

Tornadoes Cloze

Tornadoes Cloze

Learn about tornadoes by reading the text on this tornadoes cloze worksheet and filling in the missing words from the word bank. 

Tornadoes Factsheet

Tornadoes Factsheet

Learn a little about tornadoes with our printable fact sheet - perfect if you're learning about extreme weather events!

Tornadoes Safety Poster

Tornadoes Safety Poster

Safety information posters can be very important and helpful during extreme weather. Can the children design a poster alerting people to the dangers of tornadoes, and tell them what they need to do to stay safe?

Tornadoes Story Paper

Tornadoes Story Paper

In the Wizard of Oz, Dorothy and her dog, Toto, are whisked away to the magical land of Oz during a tornado! Perhaps our tornadoes story paper will inspire the kids to create their own exciting adventure? 

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