How to Survive a Texas TornadoThe science of twisters
Ron Krienitz on Facebook shared the image above from The Weather Channel showing lightning surrounding a tornado as it touched down in Texas yesterday (April 3, 2012). The state saw 18 tornadoes, with as many as 13 raking the ground. The storm system that spun the Texas twisters is slowly moving east and expected to continue spreading havoc through Friday.
So how is it possible that one tornado can send 30,000-pound semi trucks flying through the air, while another can tear off the roof of a house but not suck out the family hiding in the bathtub?
Lindsay Enoch's home was totally destroyed by one of the tornadoes that hit Forney, Texas, Tuesday, but she says she's grateful that her mother, Sherry, was able to save her 18-month-old son and two other children by climbing into the bathtub.
"She held on to his feet, just by his feet. And the wind kept taking him but she held on to him. And he's fine. He's here," Enoch told ABC News.
Enoch's mother and children were lucky. Tornadoes form as storm fronts with warm, low-pressure centers draw in cooler, high-pressure air from the surrounding area. A supercell thunderstorm can updraft air over the space of 2 to 6 miles wide.
When so much air is displaced rapidly, a vortex can form -- the birth of a tornado.
Once the vortex is established, the pressure inside a tornado can be as much as 10 percent lower than the air around it, allowing the tornado to suck like a vacuum cleaner as it travels with its parent thundercloud, picking up anything in its way, including 30,000-pound trucks.
Because tornadoes travel quickly, it is possible that the brunt of a passing tornado can rip the roof off a house as it goes but that the people inside will only feel the effects of the dispersing winds, strong as they may be. However, had the Enochs been outside and exposed during the tornado, there is likely nothing they could have held on to that would have kept them on the ground.