What Causes A Tornado?

From Issue: Discovery 5/1/2002

Knowing the causes of things can help us better understand our world. Many times, when we see the true causes of things, we are no longer afraid of them, or we are better prepared to deal with them. For instance, suppose you are scared at night by a scratching sound coming from your window. In your mind you might picture any number of scary creatures making the sound. However, when you go to inspect the window, you find that a small limb from a nearby tree is causing the scratching, and it really is nothing to fear.

As we look at the causes of tornados, we must understand that tornados are dangerous and can be scary. But understanding the weather conditions that cause tornados can help scientists predict when and where they will occur, and can help us to be better prepared to deal with them.

Tornados form inside powerful thunderstorms. Not all thunderstorms produce tornados, but some do. The storms that produce tornados are call “tornadic thunderstorms.” In these storms, a blanket of cold, dry air usually covers a blanket of warm, moist air. The warm, moist air rises and “punches” through the blanket of cold, dry air. It begins to rise quickly and starts to spin rapidly. This rising air is called the updraft, and can reach speeds of 100 mph. The moisture in the warm air often meets with the cold air and causes rain and hail to fall before a tornado. Sometimes, several tornados can “spin off” from a single thunderstorm. Of course, more complicated things such as the jet stream are involved. But this simplified explanation gives you the basics.

Yet, even after we look at the causes of tornados, they can still be rather scary. But there is a very comforting thought found in Mark 4:35-41. In these verses, Jesus and His disciples were in a boat during a terrible windstorm. The disciples thought that they were going to die. But the Bible says that Jesus “arose and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, ‘Peace, be still!’ And the wind ceased and there was a great calm.” As we read this story, we can learn the same lesson that the disciples learned—Jesus has the power to calm all the storms in our lives. Whether it be a tornado, or trouble with a temptation at school, Jesus can help us out of our storms.


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