This photo by Johnny Tribble shows a damaged house after a tornado, Tribble said, went to the area in Ardmore, Ala., Monday, March 19, 2018. Heavy storms which tornadoes damaged homes and downed trees as they moved across the Southeast on Monday night. (Johnny Tribble via AP)
Severe thunderstorms lashed the south-east earlier this week, resulting in at least one confirmed tornado at Jacksonville State University in Alabama.
Now, parts of Florida and coastal communities in Georgia and south Carolina are at risk for severe weather that may include tornadoes.
Read on for a look at why tornadoes occur and what to do if you are stuck in one.
What is a tornado?
In essence, a tornado is a column of air that is spinning rapidly.
The column is typical of the types of thunderstorms that extend to and finally reaching the ground below. When this happens, the column takes the form of a funnel-also known as a funnel cloud, according to the Ready Campaign, a national public service campaign that helps Americans respond to natural and man-made disasters, among other things.
As tornadoes mostly occur?
“Peak tornado” season hits the South in March and ends around May, the Virginia Department of Transportation is on the website. The extreme weather conditions of the pattern usually makes its way to the north, with the majority of the tornadoes strike northern states in the summer.
“Half of tornado’s usually happen in May and June,” Harold Brooks, senior research scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Severe Storms Laboratory, told AccuWeather in April 2017.
However, tornadoes tend to hit the Gulf coast earlier in the spring, NOAA explains on its website.
“But, remember, tornadoes can happen at any time of the year. Tornadoes can also happen at any time of the day or night, but most tornadoes occur between 4 and 9 o’clock in the evening,” NOAA adds.
Why do tornadoes occur and how are they formed?
The most tornadoes in the form of supercells, also known as a rotating thunderstorm, or a mesocyclone.
A supercell is usually a thunderstorm with the wind already in motion,” according to National Geographic. It requires a combination of warm, moist air and cold, dry air — that are the “ingredients for a regular thunderstorm,” Brooks told the publication.
To make it simple, warm, moist air near the surface of the earth begins to rise, blow in a direction at a speed. Then the cold air above blowing in a different direction with a different speed. This creates a wind shear, causing the air to spin in a column. From here, as the air column gets caught in the updraft of a supercell, it causes the air to spin faster and create a funnel shape. The funnel of air is a tornado as it extends in the direction of the earth and reaches the ground below.
It is worth noting, however, that supercells are relatively rare. According to the National Weather Service (NWS), supercells are the least common type of thunderstorm.” About one in a thousand storms are supercells. From there, only one in six of these supercells will be a tornado, National Geographic reports.
But if they form, “they have a high tendency to produce severe weather, including damaging winds, very large hail, and sometimes weak to violent tornadoes,” according to the NWS.
Where tornadoes usually hit?
While tornadoes can be almost anywhere, given the right circumstances, it is usually touch in Florida and an area of the united states called “tornado alley.”
Tornado alley, according to the National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI), is a “nickname given to an area in the southern plains of the central United States that consistently experiences a high frequency of tornadoes each year.”
Tornado alley includes parts of central Texas, then moving to the Great Plains states such as Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota. s of Iowa, Missouri and eastern Colorado are also considered part of tornado alley.
What can you do to protect yourself during a tornado?
The intensity of a tornado is measured using the Fujita scale, which ranges from an F0 to an F5. The latter is the most destructive and dangerous type of tornado. The winds of an F5 tornado can reach more than 200 km per hour.
To protect yourself from a tornado, it is important to know the difference between a tornado watch and a tornado warning: a watch indicates a tornado may form, while a warning means a tornado has been spotted, according to the Ready Campaign.
Some of the homes in Tornado alley are equipped with Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)-approved “rooms”, which, according to the organization, is “a hardened structure specifically designed to meet FEMA criteria and provide life-safety protection in extreme weather, such as tornadoes and hurricanes.”
However, if you can not reach a safe room during a tornado, it is best to go with the lowest level of a structure, such as a basement. It is important to stay away from all windows, doors, or anything else to the outside, Ready Campaign advises. The wearing of a helmet and placing blankets, pillows or even a mattress on your body can protect you from debris if a tornado hits your house or a nearby building.
If you do not have a basement, the Ready Campaign also suggests hiding in a closet. (To find out what you should do before, during and after a tornado, you can read more here).
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Madeline Farber is a Reporter for Fox News. You can follow her on Twitter @MaddieFarberUDK.