Time of tornadoes on the ground

Texas A&M University’s Department of Atmospheric Sciences Texas A&M University’s Department of Atmospheric Sciences Q: Some of the tornadoes that recently ravaged the Southeast stayed on the ground for many miles. Is this unusual?

A: It is, said Brent McRoberts of Texas A&M University.

“Most tornadoes stay on the ground for less than 5 miles, and it’s rare that they stay on the ground for more than 10 to 20 miles,” he said.

Some tornadoes within the past year have stayed on the ground for almost 125 miles. Perhaps the greatest example of a tornado staying on the ground for a long period of time was the famous Tri-State tornado of March 1925. It stayed on roughly the same path for an amazing 219 miles, from southeast Missouri, crossing over Illinois, and finally ending in Indiana. After all was said and done, the tornado was estimated to move at 73 miles per hour, killing 695 people, and destroying over 15,000 homes.

Q: Do tornadoes ever change direction?

A: They can move in any direction, McRoberts said, but most have a common path.

“Most tornadoes move from the southwest to the northeast, but not all do,” he added. “It used to be thought that all tornadoes moved to the northeast, but now we know that they can move in any direction. Tornadoes develop from severe thunderstorms, and they generally move in whatever direction that particular thunderstorm is moving.”

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2011-05-05 digital edition

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