Weekly Feature

tornadoes, tornado, tsunami

Nature Wages War: Tornadoes, Hurricanes and Tsunamis

November 28, 2009
by Liz Colville
What happens when water, wind and extreme temperatures collide? FindingDulcinea looks at the causes and devastating effects of hurricanes, tsunamis and tornadoes. Get inside the eye of the hurricane, take a tornado tour and learn about the chain of events that led to the Indian Ocean tsunami, with help from these links.


What are tornadoes, exactly? The Storm Prediction Center, a division of the National Weather Center, shares some interesting information in its Online Tornado FAQ. Learn all about how tornadoes form, what the F-scale rating stands for, and why certain regions of the U.S. are greater tornado-targets than others. The Storm Prediction Center also offers thorough information on tornado forecasting, damage and safety.
Tramline, an online field-trip site for kids, offers a six-page virtual tour of a tornado with images of various kinds of tornadoes—some with “funnels” that don’t touch the ground, others split by rain—as well as where these different types of tornadoes occur and why.


Hurricanes are defined as “tropical cyclones with winds greater than 64 knots.” Tramline's "field trip" of a hurricane allows kids and adults to explore visuals that help explain events like Hurricane Katrina, which struck in 2005. The tour includes a map of the hurricane hotspots on Earth; how hurricanes are measured; how they move and change; safety warnings and the typical effects of hurricanes, such as rip tides, flooding and tornadoes.
NASA has a feature for kids called “Tropical Twisters,” which has some fascinating videos showing real hurricanes in motion, as well as computer-simulated movies that show exactly what’s going on inside the eye of the storm. The site answers questions like “Why Do Hurricanes Move?” and “How Dangerous Are They?”
National Geographic’s feature “Forces of Nature” also has a great section on hurricanes (as well as volcanoes, tornadoes and earthquakes). Don't miss the multimedia tool that lets you create your own hurricane by manipulating ocean temperature, humidity and pressure.

A 2008 study on hurricanes determined that the increases in temperature adversely affect the hurricane season, a conclusion long suspected by scientists. The study, conducted by Professor of Climate Prediction Mark Saunders at University College London, determined that a one-degree increase in water temperature over the summer led to a 49 percent increase in hurricanes and a 31 percent increase in tropical storms.


Our most recent and terrible experience with a tsunami was the earthquake and tsunami that rocked Southeast Asia on December 26, 2004. An archaeologist of disaster, Dr. George Pararas Carayannis, explains the events of the earthquake and tsunami with images, easy-to-read narratives, and diagrams. At the bottom of the page are links to discussions of early tsunamis, most of which occurred in the same region, affecting countries like Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and the Philippines. But the magnitude of 2004’s event is clear: aftershocks were felt in multiple countries, tens of thousands of people died, and nearly 20 countries and islands were affected by its devastation.
PBS's "Nova" explains that tsunamis occur when "a major geologic disturbance—a landslide, volcanic eruption, earthquake, or even meteor impact—displaces huge amounts of water." The Web site associated with the episode “Wave That Shook the World” offers an analysis of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. The site also includes sections on “Anatomy of a Tsunami” and “Wave of the Future,” which tackles the prediction and potential havoc of the next major tsunami.
This simple illustration of tsunamis from the University of Washington’s Department of Earth and Space Sciences shows how common wind waves differ from tsunami waves, which create a “wall of water” capable of destroying manmade structures.

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