Why the US has so many tornadoes

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Hollywood loves a good tornado. Like most things Hollywood it’s all a little dramatic, but flying cows aside there is
something accurate about the setting. “I have a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.” You’re not. But the tornado started there,
which makes sense. Tornadoes are far more common in the US than anywhere else. For perspective all of Europe records around 300 tornadoes per year whereas the US
records well over a thousand. If we move in a bit closer, you’ll see that most of
the world’s tornadoes are happening here, in an area called Tornado Alley —
a place that’s absolutely perfect for twisters. Tornado Alley doesn’t have any
“official” boundaries but it’s typically considered this area that extends from
northern Texas through Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, Colorado, and South Dakota.
Some people extend it even further east. While most states in the US have
recorded at least one tornado, this area is really a hotbed and the main reason
for that is geography. The central part of the US is unique in the fact that there’s this really large warm area of water just to the South and the wide
high range of mountains that extend a long way from north to south. Harold Brooks is the senior research scientist at the National Severe Storms
Laboratory. He used to chase tornadoes now he studies them from Norman, Oklahoma in the heart of Tornado Alley. A tornado requires a couple of special ingredients — ingredients that tornado alley is full of. First, we need a thunderstorm, which
we’re going to make right now. Sort of … To make a thunderstorm the things we need are warm moist air at low levels, cold dry air above that, and some mechanism to lift that warm moist air up. In Tornado Alley, lots of warm moist air flows into the plains from the Gulf of Mexico and cool dry air flows from over the Rocky
Mountains here in the West. Eventually a change in temperature or pressure will
arrive and lift that warm air up into the cool air forming an updraft. Once
these two meet, the moisture from the warm air begins to condense, forming clouds,
and a thunderstorm begins. Under normal conditions, rain would fall
from these clouds and cool the warm air breaking the storm, but in tornado alley
there’s a strong air current flowing from west to east known as the jet
stream. This, paired with the cool mountain air, blows the rain away keeping
the air in the updraft warm and wet, which allows the storm to intensify and
brings us the step two: getting the storm to rotate. To make that happen we need
winds moving at different speeds and directions. As you can see Tornado Alley
has that in abundance. The air coming from the Gulf moves slowly into the
plains, meanwhile the jet stream from the mountains provides a steady stream of
high fast-moving air flowing east. Because the jet stream is flowing faster
and in a different direction it causes the Gulf when below to rotate like a
spinning football. When the spinning air gets pulled into the updraft it’s tilted,
but continues to spin – causing the entire updraft to rotate. Storms like this are
known as “supercells” and they create prime conditions for tornadoes. They’re
rare but most commonly occur in … You guessed it – Tornado Alley. As the supercell grows the
spiraling updraft begins to stretch towards the ground and forcefully pulls
air into the cyclone. Air rushes in from the sides and a spinning dust cloud
forms below, which brings us to the final stage – getting the vertically spinning
air to the ground. Stage three is the friction in the tea cup. It’s like using a spoon to swirl tea leaves at the bottom of a cup. The tea leaves rush into the
center and are pulled up through the middle of the tea cyclone. In a real
tornado everything around the cyclone is sucked up – air, dirt, debris, cows …
As more and more air is pulled in tightly, pressure builds and the faster and
longer that tornado gets. It stretches closer to the ground until it eventually
meets with that dust cloud. And then, it touches down. We see most tornadoes in the central
part of the US because of the ingredients that are necessary for a
tornado come together there more often than any other place. The United States isn’t the only place that gets tornadoes. Southeastern Brazil in northeastern
Argentina have some of the same ingredients Tornado Alley does: cool
mountain air coming over the Andes, and warm moist air coming from the Amazon.
But even still, the frequency of tornadoes is scores behind the US. While
the right conditions come together sometimes the geography isn’t exactly
right. In South America the Andes aren’t as wide as the Rockies and the Amazon isn’t as good of a moisture source as the Gulf of Mexico is because it’s land. It’s sort of a Goldilocks problem And a delicate recipe. Most people will go
their entire lives without ever seeing a tornado and some would consider that
lucky. Others actively seek them out – and those that do start in Tornado Alley, where the geography is just right. Just knowing what makes a tornado isn’t enough to anticipate when and where it’ll happen, so if you want to know how
meteorologists try to predict these dangerous storms check out the
documentary tornado season on CuriosityStream. CuriosityStream is a
subscription streaming service that offers thousands of documentaries and
nonfiction titles from some of the world’s best filmmakers. You can get
unlimited access starting at $2.99 a month and because you’re a Vox fan the
first 31 days are free if you sign up at CuriosityStream.com/Vox
and use the promo code Vox. CuriosityStream doesn’t affect our
editorial but their support does make videos like this one possible, so go
check them out.

100 comments

  1. Hey everyone! Our Production Manager Ashley and I had a little too much fun researching footage for this video and wanted to share some of our favorites with you. Head over to the Video Lab to check out our recommendations for some of the best tornado videos on the internet (and a little karate too).
    www.youtube.com/vox/join

    – Kim

  2. Wait there’s tornadoes in Arizona? I’ve lived here my whole life thinking that tornadoes never happened here. Arizona doesn’t get earthquakes or any other natural disasters besides dust storms which hardly even happen. Dust storms are harmless anyways

  3. I lived in Norman, Oklahoma. If you saw green skies on a March afternoon right before a thunderstorm with no wind, you will be having a bad evening.

  4. i live in colorado. i didnt know it was apart of tornado ally.
    im telling my parents to move now, tornados are very deadly, even ef-0's

  5. I think USA gets so many tornadoes as a punishment from the gods of the left because of their sins, like white supremacy, toxic masculinity but mainly because of Trump presidency.

  6. that U.S. map was wrong most of California doesn't have tornados and if they do they are really small so little they shouldn't even be on the map

  7. when I stayed in down south Illinois I seen a tornado but when I lived in middle Colorado it would storm all the time but no tornados witch is odd cuz its closer so you think it would have been the opposite

  8. I feel like there should be a gap around Yukon, OK and a denser bubble around Moore, OK. Yukon has gotten close but never hit by a tornado… Wish Moore could say the same 😅

  9. I live here in kansas and people who don't live here think we get tornadoes yearly or monthly. When in reality I've never seen a tornado for 4 years, on average.

  10. I’ve seen one form in the parking lot of where I work. I live in Alabama. We get them several times a year around where I live. I’ve seen so many that is not funny. Honestly, when I hear the tornado warning go out on my phone and tv I’m like, “Hmh, tornado warning. ‘Shrugs shoulder’. Anything good on tv.” It’s just another day here. I only worry when I hear the sirens go off. The it’s get animals inside and get to the hall. Usually over in 10min and back to everyday life.

  11. I think tornado alley does extend more east. I live in Missouri and we get our fair share of tornados every year. Though I do live in a part that’s closer to Kansas so there’s that.

  12. I grew up on the Arkansas/Oklahoma border. On my 5th birthday an F3 tornado struck my neighborhood. I remember my dad snatching me up out of my bed and literally tossing me into a closet. He grew up in West Kansas so he knew what was going on. The neighborhood legend is that he ran around the blocks in his tightie-whities yelling "TURN THE WATER OFF!" while the tornado was bearing down. He ended up getting glass embedded in his head which he had to have surgically removed. I also remember waking up and looking at where our front wall was supposed to be and going "Oh, the wall is gone." We had to move in with my grandparents while our house was being repaired. So that's my tornado experience, hopefully I don't have to live through another one.

  13. That number for Oklahoma cannot be right. Oklahoma is considered the center for tornadoes which is why Norman is where everyone goes to study them

  14. Jeremiah 30 : 23 , 24 ]     23. Look! A WINDSTORM of Yahawah will BURST out in FURY,
    A SWEEPING TEMPEST that WHIRLS DOWN ( TORNADO , Hurricane )on the HEAD of the WICKED.

    24. The burning anger of Yahawah will NOT turn back
    Until he has carried out and ACCOMPLISHED the INTENTIONS of his heart. In the final part of the days you will understand this.

    TEMPEST = storm , squall , gale , hurricane , tornado , cyclone , typhoon , superstorm , thunderstorm , cloudburst , downpour , rainstorm , hailstorm , deluge , monsoon , tropical storm , electrical storm , snowstorm , blizzard , dust storm , dust devil , williwaw , ice storm , windstorm , buran , turmoil , tumult , turbulence , ferment , disturbance , disorder , chaos , upheaval , disruption , commotion , uproar , furor

    Upheval = disruption
    upset
    disturbance
    trouble
    turbulence
    disorder
    disorganization
    confusion
    turmoil
    pandemonium
    bedlam
    furor
    uproar
    disarray
    chaos
    mayhem
    cataclysm
    revolution
    violent change

    Ferment = agitation and excitement among a group of people, typically concerning major change and leading to trouble or violence

    These scriptures are talking about the final part of the days something that people already know we're in , and it's describing EVERYTHING that is and has been happening.

  15. Very good educational video, but another factor in how strong a tornado can be and lasts depend partially on how level the terrain is, states in tornado alley are usually full of plains and open fields which tornadoes love, gives it an easier path to touch the ground.

    I live in Southern Missouri, before a tornado just being outside was like everything had stopped, it was like a yellow tint and an odd kind of moist warm air, nothing hut silence and a suspiciously calm wind was blowing.

  16. I live in Florida and we usually get a few small tornadoes here and there. I saw one during hurricane Irma a couple years ago.

  17. Siapa pula cipta tornado itu?..ada jawapan?..air dari langit raja mana pula turunkan?..mana pula muka raja yang mahu disembah itu?..sudah binasa ke belum ni?..

  18. Haven’t watched the video yet… just waiting to see how many times they say “Climate Change” in this video, my guess is 5

  19. Because most of the US people are wicked and don’t believe and think about their creator
    So the Gods wrath comes on you just like came on the other nations .

  20. So wait,Philadelphia does get tornadoes then? Wow I thought that place doesn't. Unless those were the reports of almost of a tornado happening there.

  21. I live in the much smaller. And lesser known Dixie Ally which is on the east coast which wasn't mentioned at all

  22. One thing I notice in your video … there seem to have no forests where the tornadoes form … there may be a reason for that …

  23. What's the percent of the tornados is the us that actually cause a severe amount of damage. They all cant be big a f1 maybe a few shingles ripped off broken wooden or at most a rolled car f2 possible all shingles few more windows trees knocked down power lines then an f3 f4 and a rare f5 dont happen often.

  24. Apparently they did not research the fact that Alabama averaged more tornadoes each year than those States in Tornado alley.
    Not only that but a separate "Tornado Alley" exists later in the season across Alabama and neighboring states.
    Even way up in my home state of Michigan, the F5 Flint/Beecher tornado still ranks in the top ten for deaths and damage costs.

  25. The main reason we are seeing more tornados, floods, forest fires and floods, it is a biblical prophecies mentioned in revelation.

  26. Anyone here after Nashville? 🙏 God Bless all those people in Nashville and others who have had tornados.

  27. you were wrong with your map, when I was 8 There was a tornado in Great Barrington Ma and I remember it vividly! the count in Ma should be 2 not 1 xD

  28. Most of those areas are plains with dirt. Notice tornadoes have a lot of dirt? Maybe planting trees will slow the air.

  29. We don't live in tornado alley, but in southern Indiana and there's Kentucky across the river. Watch out. My family lives in a brick house with a basement. They have nearly missed a tornado 3 times in the last 35 years. 1. Hit the Dairy Queen/housing corner just 2 blocks from their house. The whole corner was gone. They rebuilt a church there. 2. Hit a mobile home park/and my Dad's friends house just a 5 minute drive from our house (in Tornado terms, that's nothing). My Dad went to the aftermath to give his friend a place to stay for a month while he figured out what to do when 1/4 of his friend's house was literally blown off. 3. And I remember the two of them in the year 2000. Just like a 15 minute drive from our house across the river in Owensboro Kentucky 2 tornadoes touched town and caused destruction.

  30. Where I live is in tornado alley nobody cares about them anymore we just go outside to watch them while eating

  31. While this video is year old. States isn’t the only place that gets tornados. Alberta Canada gets its share of tornadoes too. While not as many, we still do get them because of cold air off the Rocky Mountains.

  32. This is old data. There is a second, southern tornado alley…covering Louisiana, Miss., Alabama, Tenn., Georgia, N. & S. Carolina, Florida….. This is equally as dangerous. Both of these change with time of the seasons, end of Fall and then again late Feb and March.

  33. In Georgia we get a lot of tornadoes but not enough to be considered tornado alley one time my cousins school got ripped apart by a tornado and they had to build a whole new school

  34. Something is wrong with you research. I am Brazilian and Canadian, and I live in Southeast Brazil for 6 months a year we never had 1 Tornado, to be more precisely we do not have Tornados in Brazil.

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