OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – For many, Oklahoma’s weather is a calling. We study and experience it, learn from it and forecast it so you, the viewer, have an understanding of just how fast it can change and effect your life.
Meteorologist, Emily Sutton, takes us inside an Oklahoma thunderstorm to see how tornadoes form.
Meteorologists know a lot about tornado formation, but there are missing pieces to the puzzle. We know the larger scale process, but the finer details need to be researched.
Oklahoma is in the heart of Tornado Alley.
In April and May, especially, all the ingredients can come together for a tornado.
Here’s what scientists know for sure:
Warm, moist air surges north from the Gulf of Mexico, while at the same time cool, dry Canadian air blows off of the Rockies. Warm, dry air moves in from the desert, west.
Thirty thousand feet up, where planes fly, is the jet stream, a rapid moving river of air with speeds up to 300 MPH. The jet stream steers storms that can create severe weather outbreaks. It forces denser, colder air over the warm air, making the atmosphere unstable.
The different air masses and jet stream create a change wind speed and direction with height, called wind shear. This can cause a horizontal tube of air to form.
The next step is making this tube turn upright. How does that happen?
In a thunderstorm, warm, moist air feeds into a storm, called an updraft.
A storm with a persistent, rotating updraft is called a supercell. Nearly all violent tornadoes spawn from this type of storm.
The stronger the updraft, the stronger the storm and often times, the bigger the hail.
This powerful wind can force the tube of air vertical.
Scientists are still trying to pinpoint what exactly happens in the final steps of the tornado, but it’s likely due to fast, cool sinking air wrapping around the back side of the system, called a rear flank downdraft.
This creates a violently rotating column of air… A tornado!
Watch the 4 Warm Storm Team’s “Wicked Weather Special” May 3 at 6:30 p.m.