The complex life of a Tornado

Atmospheric science

“ A lethal yet intriguing phenomena …. “

A “pale grey swirling column of air forming in the backdrop of dark thunderclouds is the last thing anyone would want to see .The sheer brutality of a tornado is witnessed more than 1200 times every year in the US itself , but unfortunately predicting one is exceptionally difficult

The origin story...

The main factors that are needed for a tornado to form are

  • A localized thunderstorm (loads of moisture content !)
  • Crosswinds (preferably perpendicular in direction)
  • Significant temperature difference with increasing altitude
  • And finally, some luck! (Factors beyond simple science)

Why are tornadoes extremely difficult to predict?

Firstly weather prediction is made by numerical methods (statistical analysis)

Steps involved :

  • Real-time physical data is fed as input to a supercomputer
  • The computer solves insanely complex equations with the given input data
  • Finally, it provides a refined output which is used for weather predictions

When science obstructs…

But there is a catch to this process; the complex equations that supercomputers solve are notoriously sensitive in nature. They come under a domain called Chaos theory (i.e. a set of scientific principles describing highly complex systems, where small changes in initial conditions radically change the final results.) This is otherwise known as the “Butterfly effect ”. Edward Lorenz initially coined this term in 1960 at MIT.

The problem with tornadoes is that it is a very localized phenomenon whose physical parameters are dynamic in nature; moreover, several large-scale factors such as wind pressure variations are governed by complex variables, which should also be accounted for. Due to the high complexity of these systems, loads of approximations are made in the calculations, thereby giving erratic results.

“ Interestingly, Mother nature is far too complex for even our supercomputers to handle! ”

The current lead time for a tornado evacuation is just 13 min. This ascertains that a tornado encounter would be a dangerously close call proving it to be a lethal yet intriguing phenomenon.

A tornado before touchdown



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Kishore Madavan

Kishore Madavan

Hi, I am an engineer by profession and a content writer by passion . I enjoy writing about arcane topics from a wide spectrum of domains !