Spellbound by the destructive forces of nature’s fury, we focus a morbid curiosity on twisters. Tornadoes combine more catastrophic energy in a tinier area than any other weather phenomenon. Also spawned from powerful thunderstorms, waterspouts form over warm water and sometimes move inland to join their stronger vicious sister, the tornado, and to wreak havoc on man and his environment. Here are 70 of the most wicked twisted sisters Nature has produced: tornadoes and waterspouts.
The Storm is Coming
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Nature is unbelievably beautiful, but sometimes she strikes fear in the hearts of man when her power amasses into thunderstorms from hell, towering infernos of rotating wind, pounding hail, and savaging supercells that spin out of control into meteorological menaces. The dark clouds warn us of impending doom, but some adrenaline junkie storm chasers go toward the danger in the name of science. The first three pictures were taken before tornadoes dropped down on the photographers. The bottom right photo was snapped of a rare mothership cloud formation hovering over Childress, Texas. This massive tornado later unleashed its violence, inflicted millions of dollars in damage, and Childress was declared a national disaster area.
Formation: From a Thunderstorm to a Tornado
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Thunderstorms most often develop in warm, moist air in advance of moving cold fronts. These thunderstorms can produce strong damaging winds, large hail, and tornadoes. Huge amounts of energy are released as the water vapor in the rising air condenses. Some of this energy is changed into powerful vertical winds that can move downward (downdrafts) and upward (updrafts). The updrafts of a rotating supercell can form into a violent vortex, a tornado.
In the pictures above, the lowest part in the center of each cloud is called a wall cloud. Many times the wall cloud can be rain-free, but rain pours out of the sky in the background. Moments later in some cases, a strong tornado develops into a funnel that drops down to touch the ground and become a tornado. Environmental clues to watch for include a dark, often greenish sky, a wall cloud, large hail, and a loud roaring like a rolling freight train.
Skinny Twisters, But Still Lethal
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Pictured above are vertical funnels of rapidly spinning air. Funnel clouds may appear almost transparent. They become visible when they pick up water droplets from a storm’s moist air or when dust and debris are picked up. Once a funnel reached the ground, it becomes a tornado. These skinny tornadoes would be considered in the “weak” category. Their winds tend to be less than 110 mph and they travel from 1 to 10 minutes on the ground before dissipating. These “weak” and skinny tornadoes cause less than 5% of tornado deaths, but they can still kill.
Tornadoes Come In All Shapes and Sizes
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The second classification is “strong” tornadoes. These consist of more than a rotating stud cloud with a thin lasso of funnel coming down. A strong tornado is often accompanied with hard sideways rain, making vision all but impossible. About 29% of all tornadoes are considered strong and result in nearly 30% of all tornado deaths. These may last 20 minutes or longer once they touch the ground with winds of about 100 to 205 mph.
Lightning with Tornadoes
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The skies grow darker and more ominous, holding some of us spellbound, but when the dazzling show of lightning combines with a rotating vortex of doom, it is well past the time to seek safety and shelter. Tornadoes at night can often be spotted in the darkness due to brilliant streaks of deadly lightning. On top of the proverbial roar of the train coming from the tornado, lightning crashes and rumbles. You do not have to see the tornado to hear the cacophony of destruction headed your way.
Dark and Deadly Tornadoes with Debris
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Tornadoes typically grow to about 660 feet wide. Their winds may top 250 miles an hour and can rip a pathway a mile wide and 50 miles long. These funnels have touched down and turned brownish black as they hit something. A tornado can be colored white if it hits snow or colored red if it churns up soil that is clay. Tornadoes can pick up houses, buildings, vehicles, and people. The swirling debris can be hurled up to hundreds of miles, sometimes being located even states away. The atmosphere is so stirred up, it is difficult to see beyond the storm. Falling or flying debris can be as deadly as being in the path of the twister.
Multiples Funnels of Doom
Sometimes a supercell will spawn multiple funnels of doom. In the upper left picture, one funnel stretches toward the ground as others begin to take shape in the clouds. The middle photo on the left shows dueling disasters touching down. In the upper right corner, a triple threat twists and chews the field. The bottom right photo shows four tornadoes on the ground, with two or three more reaching downward between them.
The bottom left picture is one of the oldest and well documented multiple forming tornado pictures in existence. In March 1925, this tornado plowed through Missouri, southern Illinois and parts of southwest Indiana. This tornado cut a 219-mile path of death and destruction, killing 695 people and injuring 2,771 people. This tornado was likely an F5.
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The tornadoes pictured above are killers. Violent tornadoes make up only 2% of all tornadoes, yet cause 70% of all tornado-related deaths. The violent tornado has a lifetime of more than 1 hour on the ground, destroying everything within its path as the winds reach over 205 mph. Even seeking shelter, some folks do not survive these apocalyptic storms. From the safety of cowering in a basement, the storm still roars like a demon in pain, winds howling, hail pounding, debris thudding against the house. Glass breaks and the roof groans before ripping off as the monster gets into the house. Make no mistake, the tornadoes in the photos violently mass-murdered people as well as destroyed property beyond recognition.
Hope, Even in the Midst of the Storm
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It may seem like a contradiction, but even in the midst of disaster there can also exist hope. The top photo shows a twister, but the rain is coming in behind it to the thirsty ground a drink. A slight rainbow arches through the tornado. The middle picture is called “Oz.” Hail is clearly visible as well as a rainbow and a funnel. In the bottom photo, the wall cloud has sent its twister to churn up the Earth. Lightning flashes on one side as a rainbow shows from the other. We have advanced leaps and bounds from where our knowledge on tornadoes was even 20 years ago. Thanks to technology made available in part due to brave storm chasers, we can have hope in the midst of the storm.
Scary Twisters Ranked by Fujita Scale
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A tornado’s intensity is independent of its actual size, since a skinny funnel can be either weak or strong; the same is true for a very large tornado. The Fujita scale ranks the strength of tornadoes. The scale ranges from F0 to F5 and the rankings are based according to destructive capacity rather than tornado size. However, by examining the damage a storm has caused, scientists can determine the accurate wind speed which is a key component in the Fujita scale.
Rough Footage of Tornadoes
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Many pictures of twisters leave much to desired in terms of a clean and clear photo. People, from scientists to thrill seekers, risk their lives to chase these storms. The knowledge they gather has saved countless lives, from helping set up tornado sirens to understanding how these monsters live and die so weathermen can better predict the path of destruction.
Many pictures of tornadoes today are as pretty as if they were art. Some actually are art since computer and graphic programs have advanced as much as the user ability. Without honesty, pictures can be posted and claimed to be a true tornado. Most good pictures of twisters have indeed been touched up through the magic of Photoshop. Nature is beautiful enough to be art. In the upper left picture, a small funnel is forming in the Florida sunset. The top right picture is claimed to be a tornado in a field, turned into panoramic art. Some tornadoes have aptly been named, “Hell in Paradise,” but twisters can form anywhere from an island retreat to the desert heat.
Twisters Over Water
A waterspout is a funnel that forms over the water. Waterspouts are much weaker than twisters over the land. When the funnel stretches from the thunderstorm into the ocean or lake, water is the debris that flies in every direction. However, if something like a ship is on the surface of the water then there could be a real threat to the boat. Waterspouts occasionally move inland where their power and danger level increase to that of its viciously twisted sister, the tornado.
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Like folks spellbound by a tornado, people on beaches stand and stare as opposed to dashing for safety. The same awestruck curiosity occurs to some sailors on boats or ships. Once a waterspout forms, it could easily work like a supercell over the land where multiple twisters are spawned. If a waterspout were about to collide with your boat, your best bet might be diving underwater but even that is not guaranteed to save your life. Although you would manage to avoid the debris in the air, not enough is known about the vortex in the water. If could be safe or it could be like diving into the vortex of a maelstrom . . . a death sentence.
A person would need to be far above the water level, such as in a plane or on a mountain, to see the first sign of a waterspout. It starts as a dark spot forming on the ocean. The second phase still could not be seen from a ship, but could perhaps could be felt as the wind shifts and speeds up. If a person on a boat happened to look up at the cloud above when sensing the change in the wind, that person might notice a funnel forming in the clouds even though the vortex on the water’s surface is not clearly visible. As the winds increases, the spray is visible from the vortex on the ocean surface. When a waterspout is fully matured, anyone with eyes to see can watch the funnel reach from the cloud to dip and twist into the water. They also hiss and suck at the water instead of the rumbling growl of a twister on land.
Waterspouts can also form over lakes or rivers, but are most commonly seen over the ocean. They suck up the water in their path, billowing a water spray like a mushroom cloud against the water surface. Waterspouts can range in size from several feet to more than a mile high, and their width can vary from a few feet to hundreds of feet. It is not uncommon to see more than one water-twister at a time. Some ships have reported seeing as many as 30 waterspouts in a single day.