Earthgauge Kids Corner

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Test your knowledge about tornadoes!

1) Which is not an ingredient needed for a tornado to form?
a. Severe thunderstorm
b. Rising air
c. Change in wind speeds and direction
d. Hail

2) Which scale is used to measure the strength of a tornado?
a. Saffir-Simpson scale
b. Enhanced Fujita scale
c. Richter scale
d. None of the above

3) On average, how many tornadoes occur in the United States every year?
a. 70
b. 5
c. 350
d. 1000

4) Which of the following terms indicates that a tornado has already been spotted near your community?
a. Chance
b. Watch
c. Warning
d. None of the above

5) If there is a tornado warning issued for your city or town, where is the safest place to be?
a. In a field
b. In a car
c. In your house or school
d. At the mall

View quiz answers.

Check Out These Online Tornado Activities!

Challenge your mind with this Tornado Brainteaser.

Do the emergency supply scavenger hunt with your friends or family.

Become a virtual tornado chaser by playing The Chase.

Play The Weather Channel’s Severe Weather Challenge game.

Help the Weather Wizards track down a tornado by answering this quiz.

Learn how to make a tornado in a bottle using supplies at home.


Featured Activity: Tornado in a Jar

What You’ll Need

  • A clear glass jar with a lid
  • Water
  • Vinegar
  • Clear liquid dish soap
  • Optional: a pinch of glitter

What To Do

  • Fill the jar 3/4 full of water.
  • Add one teaspoon of vinegar and one teaspoon of dish soap.
  • Sprinkle in a pinch of glitter (optional).
  • Close the lid and quickly shake the jar with a circular motion. Watch the “twister” form before your eyes!

Learn why the tornado-like “twister” forms in the jar by visiting Web Weather for Kids.




Photo courtesy of NOAA.

did you know

Learn fun facts about tornadoes!

Tornado Spotlight: Greensburg, Kansas

At 9:45 p.m. on the night of Friday, May 4, 2007, a tornado destroyed 95% of the town of Greensburg, Kansas.

Some facts about the tornado:

  • It was 1.7 miles wide, and Greensburg is only 2 miles wide!
  • It measured EF-5 on the Enhanced Fujita scale (the highest rating), meaning it had wind speeds over 200 miles per hour!
  • It traveled for 25 miles and was on the ground for over an hour!

A Greensburg home destroyed by the tornado. Photo by Michael Raphael, FEMA.

Nearly all the homes and businesses were damaged or flattened, and workers hauled away over 80,000 truckloads of trash and debris. Soon after the tornado struck, the town decided to rebuild as a “green” or environmentally-friendly town. They’re building eco-homes, a new arts center and a new K-12 school. Some of the green features are:

  • A wind turbine for electricity;
  • Geothermal heating and cooling;
  • Water-saving controls;
  • Lots of sunlight and an outdoor classroom area; and
  • A green roof.

To learn more about Greensburg and how students are involved in the environmental effort, watch the Planet Green TV series online.

  • The highest wind speed ever recorded in a tornado was 302 mph! That’s faster than the fastest NASCAR race speed ever recorded. This tornado touched down in Oklahoma in 1999.
  • The U.S. Weather Bureau (now the National Weather Service) did not allow the word “tornado” to be used in weather forecasts until 1950. Little was know about tornadoes and using the word caused a lot of people to panic.
  • Tornadoes can have different shapes; a “wedge” tornado is thick (about as wide as it is tall), while a “rope” tornado is very thing and looks like a rope or snake.
  • Every year at the National Weather Festival, tornado chasers from around the country display their weather-chasing vehicles at the Storm-chaser Car Show. The vehicles feature various weather stations and monitoring equipment, and some even have broken windows and dents from large hail and flying debris.
  • Objects like wood, chickens, horses, cows, cars and even people can be lifted by tornadoes and carried long distances. In 1966, a tornado lifted a car into the air and dropped it on top of a 70-foot building – both passengers survived. In 2006, a girl and her horse were lifted into the air and dropped off unharmed 1,000 feet away.

A wood plank was flung into the side of a refrigerator during a tornado. Photo courtesy of the National Severe Storms Laboratory.


What You Can Do

Learn more about tornadoes and how to stay safe!

Learn More about Tornadoes

A mature tornado in Texas. Photo courtesy of National Severe Storms Laboratory.


During a Tornado: Staying Safe

If you hear that a tornado warning is in effect for your community, a tornado has been spotted and is very close by. Follow your emergency plan immediately.

If you are inside:

  • Go into the basement or storm shelter and hide under a sturdy piece of furniture or mattress. Cover your head with your arms.
  • If you don’t have a basement, choose a small room on the lowest floor, and as close to the center of your home as possible. The room should be away from windows – bathrooms or closets are good choices. Put as many walls as possible between you and the tornado.

If you are outside:

  • Head for lowest level of a nearby building.
  • If there is no building nearby, protect yourself by lying flat on the ground in a low area, and cover your head with your arms and hands.
  • Do not seek shelter in a car or under a highway overpass or bridge – these areas are not safe.

The oldest known photograph of a tornado, 1884. This tornado has three funnel clouds. Photo courtesy of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Before a Tornado: Preparing

  • Learn the Warning Signs
    • Dark, often greenish sky
    • Wall cloud (a cloud that lowers below the base of the thundercloud)
    • Large hail
    • Loud roar; similar to a freight train
    • Some tornadoes have a visible funnel shape extending from the cloud. Others may not show a funnel, but you may see flying debris.
    • Some tornadoes are clearly visible while others are obscured by rain or nearby low-hanging clouds.
  • Make an emergency plan with your family and teachers
    • Decide on a safe room at home and school where everyone can gather in case of a tornado watch or warning
    • Prepare an emergency supply kit (here is a recommended list)
    • Find out how your community will warn you if a severe thunderstorm or tornado occurs
  • If you hear that a tornado watch is in effect for your community
    • Alert others and follow the advice of your parents and teachers
    • Listen to a NOAA Weather Radio or your local TV or radio meteorologist
    • Stay alert and prepare as though a tornado could be coming at any time

Wall cloud with lightning. Photo courtesy of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

After a Tornado: Cleaning Up

  • Listen to your local TV or radio station or NOAA Weather Radio for updates about the storm, its damage and safety instructions
  • Help yourself first, then others. Go to an adult if there is one nearby.
  • If you left your home, listen to instructions from local authorities. Only return when they say it is safe.
  • Stay away from fallen power lines, broken gas lines and damaged buildings
  • Check for damage in the building you are in to make sure it is not in danger of collapsing. Use a flashlight from your emergency kit if you need light – never use candles.

A sign posted by a child in Greensburg, Kansas, reminding the town to “Persevere” after a devastating tornado. Photo by Ann Posegate.

Cool Tools

Check out these cool tornado tools!

Photos & Images

Photo courtesy of National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration.


Map of Tornado Alley. Image courtesy of National Climatic Data Center, NOAA.

Videos & Graphics

The video above shows cars being picked up from a parking lot and tossed by a tornado in Leighton, Alabama (from WHNT Channel 19 in Huntsville, Alabama, May 9, 2008)

Quiz Answers

1) d. Hail usually falls nearby a tornado, but it is not necessary for a tornado to form. A tornado is created by a giant thunderstorm (called a supercell) that has plenty of warm air rising up into the thundercloud. High above the ground, the rising air can start rotating if there are strong winds that change direction, forming a vortex – an area of strong rotation within the center of the cloud. A tornado can form from the cloud to the ground beneath the vortex.

2) b. The Enhanced Fujita (EF) scale is a tool used by meteorologists to estimate the wind speeds of a tornado (the scale was called the Fujita scale until 2007.) After a tornado hits, scientists assess the damage created by their winds. The scale goes from 0 to 5. Tornadoes that do very little damage to buildings and outdoor structures are lowest on the scale. For example, an EF-0 tornado – the weakest rating – can cause damage to the side of houses or rip off window shingles. Scientists estimate EF-0 tornadoes as having wind speeds from 65 to 85 miles per hour. The strongest tornadoes are assigned the highest numbers. A rare EF-5 tornado can do severe damage, cause many deaths and destroy a whole town! Scientists estimate EF-5 wind speeds are over 200 miles per hour! The EF scale uses only estimates wind speeds, since the actual wind speeds inside a tornado cannot be measured.

The Saffir-Simpson scale is used to measure wind speeds in hurricanes, based on measurements taken from airplanes that fly into the center of the storms. The Richter scale is used to measure how much the ground shakes during earthquakes, usually on a scale of 1 to 10.

3) d. Of the many countries around the world that have tornadoes, the U.S. experiences the most – over 1000 per year! Tornadoes can happen at any time of year in any state. Most tornadoes occur in a central area of the country called Tornado Alley, which includes parts of Texas, Oklahoma, Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska and South Dakota (Texas receives more tornadoes than any other U.S. state.) The land in Tornado Alley is flat, and the air above is a meeting place for warm, moist air moving north from the Gulf of Mexico and cold, dry air moving south from Canada. This boundary is where most tornadoes form. Florida also receives a lot of tornadoes.

4) c. A tornado watch indicates a tornado is possible within a certain area, but may not happen. The National Weather Service will usually announce a tornado watch before a tornado warning. A tornado warning means that a tornado has been spotted, or that a rotating cloud that can lead to a tornado has been seen on Doppler radar by meteorologists. The term “chance” is not an official word used to warn people of severe weather.

5) c. The basement or lowest floor of a house is the safest place out of these options. During a tornado warning, you should put as many walls as you can between you and the tornado. A field offers no protection from a tornado’s winds, and neither does a car. Even though a mall has walls, it also has a large roof that could collapse during a tornado, and a lot of objects that could be picked up and blown at you by the tornado’s wind. Go to a secure room with few or no windows in a basement or lowest floor – stand under a door frame, in a closet, or in a bathtub. Some communities even have certified tornado shelters or “safe rooms.” You might want to find a “safe room” in your house – ask your parents to help.

If you hear that there is a tornado watch for your community, you should follow the advice of adults nearby, listen to a weather radio or your local TV station, stay alert and prepare as though a tornado could be coming.

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