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>> Understanding Tornado Terminology and Visual Classification

Terminology and the classification of typical tornadoes

With the recent weather and amount of tornado watchers on the roads these days capturing previously unseen footage and film of active tornadoes and their destruction, there has sprouted up a numerous amount of descriptive words surrounding the standard "wedge" tornado shape. Traditionally, and according to most weather reporting professionals, there are only 3 primary classifications of tornadoes.

Consider first, the funnel cloud. The funnel cloud is a rotating mass of condensation that comes from the clouds, but has not come in contact with the ground itself. Once the funnel cloud connects with the ground, it is then referred to as a tornado. Now, even though the condensation trail of the funnel cloud has not interacted with the physical ground, the swirling mass can cause ground disturbance, debris, and damage.

Now on to the primary tornado classification types:

The "stove pipe" tornado classification is a tornado that has a uniform shape from the base to the sky. Normally, these tornadoes have a broad base and top with a wide debris area.

The "wedge" tornado shape is more broad at the top than at the bottom, usually forming a smaller funnel which interacts with the ground.

The "rope" tornado can be a single or multiple "string-like" or "rope-like" shapes that snake around and tend not to have straight and direct contact with the ground. Don't let these "rope" tornadoes fool you though, even though the debris field/condensation area that is visible to the eye is small and thin in size, this tornado can still cause a great deal of wind damage.

With any tornado shape, visual identification is only part of the picture, because once a tornado has touched the ground and a debris field is visible, much of the area outside the debris field and condensation is dangerous and can cause damage.

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