The word "tornado" is of Spanish origin, and, literally translated, means "twisting" or "turning"--an apt description of the appearance of this most frightening severe weather phenomenon. The National Weather Service defines a tornado as, "a violently rotating column of air attached to a thunderstorm AND in contact with the ground." If the column of air is not in contact with the ground, it is referred to as a "funnel cloud." Some people might well consider this to be an unnecessarily picayunish distinction. However, it has proven to be an essential one to permit the keeping of clear, consistent, accurate records, which are the basis of all severe weather research.
No matter what you think about this distinction, however, the fact remains that the North American continent in general, and the United States in particular, experience more, and more violent tornadoes than all the rest of the world put together! In the year just ended, some 940 tornadoes were confirmed by the National Weather Service, causing a total of 54 deaths, and more than $2.6 billion in property damage.
In my next posting, we'll go into the reasons why so many of these horrific storms take place here in America, and the beginnings of what you can do to help protect yourself and those you love from their destructive fury.