KANSAS CITY, Missouri - They're destructive. Winds up to 300 miles-per-hour. They can happen anytime…just about anywhere...But how much do we really know about tornadoes?
"It's a cylinder that sucks up things from the earth,'' said Sarah Lou, University of Kansas journalism student.
"What essentially happens I believe is high pressure comes over the top and low goes underneath. No, no, no, it's actually the opposite actually," said Tim Frederickson, a KU geology student.
"There are tornado clouds that look like biscuits up the in the sky so when there's going to be a tornado you can see it,'' said Melanie Piltingsrud, a KU student.
"It just spins around," said Miles Whestel, a KU civil engineering student. "You'll see debris kind of spinning in the air.''
While these college students aren't quite sure, scientists have questions of their own.
Let's start with the basics:
A tornado is defined as a violently rotating column of air.
It's the most intense of all atmospheric circulations. It must touch the ground to be considered a tornado.
And it hangs from the base of a thunderstorm cloud.
But there's certain type of thunderstorm, that seems to be the best tornado producer…
Supercell thunderstorm build upwards of 60,000 feet high. Within these towers, strong updrafts can travel over 100 miles per hour.
That's all caused by warm & humid air from near the ground rising through cold air aloft.
If there is enough rotation near the base of the supercell, this updraft takes over.
The result: One in five supercells produces a tornado
The question: Why do some supercells create produce tornadoes while others don't?
The answer may lie within a downward stream of air in the back side of the storm…
You need this downdraft to instigate tornado formation.
By re-circulating air back into the thunderstorm, the downdraft may be able to direct rotation near the surface.
This plays a large role in tornado-genesis.