Last week, as we were huddled in our basement waiting for the tornado warning for our small Massachusetts town to expire, my daughter was naturally full of questions about tornadoes.
My daughter: “Have you ever been in one?”
“Did you survive?”
“Where were you?”
I could see this news disturbed her (she has been lobbying to move to Texas lately for reasons that are not entirely clear, but that I suspect have a lot to do with the tennis court behind my sister’s house in Dallas which has been converted into a preschooler’s dream park).
“Does Texas get a lot of tornadoes?”
“Why?” My daughter was clearly troubled. She hates tornadoes nearly as much as I do, and the thought that moving to Texas might entail quite a bit of time huddled in fear below ground or in a dark closet was not a pleasant one.
We had a lot of time left on our tornado warning, and thankfully still had power, so we asked the iPhone.
Why does Texas get so many tornadoes?
In this video from CBSDFW, meteorologist Jeff Ray does a pretty good job explaining it. Basically, tornadoes are formed when cold dry air from Canada collides with warm wet air from the Gulf of Mexico. Because the jet stream passes over the Rocky Mountains on its way to Texas there is some instability in the atmosphere there already. The warm wet air from the Gulf acts as the fuel to ignite that instability into a full-fledged thunderstorm. If there’s enough moisture in the air, then the conditions could get bad enough to form a tornado.
Of course, tornadoes can happen anywhere, not just in the flat plains of Texas and the Midwest east of the Rockies. Even Massachusetts, not typically considered a high risk zone for tornadoes, experiences on average some 2-3 tornadoes a year. And in case you are one of those people who think that tornadoes can’t cross water, take a look at what happened in Springfield, MA. The river wasn’t much of an obstacle, was it?
You can find more information on tornadoes & Tornado Alley here: