RESOURCES: Whirlwind Tour of Tornado Science

Science  23 May 2003:
Vol. 300, Issue 5623, pp. 1211
DOI: 10.1126/science.300.5623.1211a

Although the nearly 400 tornadoes in a single week in early May were way off the charts, on average roughly 1000 tornadoes rip across the United States each year, killing 60 people and causing millions of dollars worth of damage. Students and teachers chasing down information on these violent storms will find this well-written frequently asked questions (FAQ) site by Roger Edwards of the Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Oklahoma, right up their alley.

Scientists don't understand exactly how twisters form, Edwards begins, but the most ferocious are born in supercells: powerful, roiling thunderstorms. Edwards touches down on scores of tornado topics, such as the basics of forecasting, the F-scale for gauging damage (F5, the strongest, has winds over 420 km per hour), and whether the tropical Pacific Ocean warming known as El Niño leads to more tornadoes (it's not yet clear). Visitors who get swept up in the subject can skip to supplementary sites, such as maps of tornado risk for different parts of the country. Edwards blows apart some famous myths, like the advice that you open the windows of your house when a tornado is bearing down to equalize the pressure inside and out. It's dangerous and futile, he writes.

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