Facts About Tornadoes for Kids (Plus Teaching Resources)

March 28, 2023

Sara Dennis

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Kids adore learning obscure and unusual information about a wide range of topics and tornadoes are no different. So if you’re looking for fun tornado facts for kids, you’ve come to the right place!

tornado facts for kids

Tornado Facts for Kids

You’ll find so many interesting facts about this extreme weather event! Your kids will be fascinated to learn about the strength of tornadoes and the different colors the sky turns. When you’ve finished discussing tornadoes with your kids, be sure to ask them for their favorite tornado fact.

What is a Tornado?

A tornado is a really fast-spinning tube of circular air that is produced by a small portion of thunderstorms. This tube violently spirals on the ground and extends up into the sky. There’s an intense updraft near the center of the tornado funnel.

You’ll often find tornadoes at the bottom of a thunderstorm. While the strength of a tornado may vary, tornado winds can reach over 300 miles per hour.

How Does a Tornado Form?

The formation of a tornado occurs when a warm air current of air that’s moving in an upward direction meets a cool air current moving in a downward direction. The two currents begin to rotate around each other, eventually forming a funnel-shaped cloud.

Once the funnel touches the ground, it becomes a tornado.

Where and When Tornadoes Form

Tornadoes are most common in the midwestern United States, east of the Rocky Mountains. You’ll also find them in southern states and northern states as well. Tornadoes can happen almost anywhere in the world and have been seen on every continent of the world except for Antarctica.

Tornado season usually happens during the spring and summer months. This is the time of year when you’ll find warm and cold air mixing and forming a tornado.

Tracking Tornadoes

There are a number of ways to track tornadoes. A weather radar, usually a doppler radar, is used to detect both the wind’s speed and direction. The winds begin to rotate when a tornado forms, so it’s critical to catch the winds when they first begin to spin.

After a tornado forms, radars and satellites track the tornado as it moves along the Earth’s surface.

Storm spotters are trained to recognize conditions that may lead to the development of a tornado. These spotters can be emergency managers or even locals who took a formal storm spotter training course.

Once they recognize that a destructive storm may be happening, they’ll report the information to the National Weather Service.


Fujita Scale

There are several different methods of rating a tornado. The Fujita scale, or the f scale, rates tornadoes by the estimated wind speed and the damage done to various objects such as houses, cars, and barns. The wind speed is an estimate based on the damage seen rather than actually being measured.

The Fujita scale was revised to make it align the wind speed and damage better. The enhanced Fujita scale become operational on February 1, 2007.

It has 28 different indicators and each one has a variety of degrees of damage. If the structure is totally destroyed, then it receives a maximum degree of damage. As you might expect, a flimsy shed being damaged indicates a lower wind speed than the total destruction of a brick home.

EFO – 65-85 mph

This rating is given to a weak tornado that caused only light damage.

Possible damage: The minimal damage includes bushes being uprooted and small trees may be blown down. Houses may have singles torn off the room and windows blown out. Car windows may also be damaged or blown out.

Medium or large branches may have been snapped off the trees, and loose small items will be tossed around and blown away. Sheds and barns may be damaged.

EF1 – 86-110 mph

You’ll find that the high winds of this level of tornado cause moderate damage.

Possible damage: The roofs of houses may be stripped and small areas of the room may be blown off. Doors can be blown in and siding ripped off. Mobile homes may be flipped or rolled onto their side.

Large trees can be snapped or blown down, while small trees might be uprooted. Telephone poles may snap in half. Plus, outhouses and sheds may blow away. A car may be blown over. Barns will have some roof and side damage, while cornstalks will be slightly bent and might even be stripped of their leaves.

EF2 – 111-135 mph

A tornado’s winds will cause considerable damage at this rating.

Possible damage: Whole roofs may be completely ripped off of frame houses and the inside of the houses may be damaged. You’ll find small and medium trees uprooted. Barns and mobile homes may be completely destroyed.

EF3 – 136-165 mph

A tornado at this level will cause severe damage.

Possible damage: Frame houses may have roofs and outside walls blown away by the winds. If they have a second story, the upper floor may be destroyed. The tornado may uproot all the trees in the path and blow down radio towers.

High-rise buildings might have windows blown out, while metal buildings like factories and construction sites can be heavily damaged or destroyed. Large vehicles such as tractors, buses, and forklifts might have been blown from their original spot.

EF4 – 166-200 mph

At this level, the winds of a tornado will cause devastating damage.

Possible damage: Cars might be mangled and thrown in the air. Frame homes can be completely destroyed or even swept away. Trees might have some of their bark removed while moving trains are blown off their tracks. And barns can be completely leveled.

EF5 – over 200 mph

The high wind speeds of these strong tornadoes cause incredible damage to anything in their path.

Possible damage: Cars can be thrown hundreds of yards away from their original position and have a lot of damage. Buildings such as frame houses, brick homes, and small businesses may be swept away.

Trees will be debarked, while corn stalks are flattened or even ripped from the ground. Even grass can be ripped up as well. Large buildings like skyscrapers might have much damage that occurred to their structure.

Fujta Scale for Tornadoes

Characteristics of Tornado

A typical tornado is spinning columns of air that are in contact with the ground. They come in a variety of different sizes and shapes. Many will look like narrow ropes in the air, while others are wide funnels.

The vortex of wind includes a strong updraft that includes quite a bit of dust and debris from the ground.

The vast majority of tornadoes are classified as weak. They only last for a few minutes and their wind speeds only reach a high of 100 miles an hour.

Teaching Kids About Tornadoes

A great book for elementary students to learn about tornadoes is “Tornadoes by Gail Gibbons.” Kids will learn how tornadoes form, what the different strengths of tornadoes mean, how to stay safe in a tornado, and much more.

Tornadoes for Kids

Weather Printables

Kids will also enjoy the information included in these weather printables. The printables give you great information about different types of clouds, such as cumulonimbus clouds, storm clouds, and even more types of weather systems. 

And don’t forget to download some printable weather cards. The cards are a wonderful method for both reviewing vocabulary and playing printable memory games

If your k-3 aged kids enjoy learning about weather, then check out Weather Words by Gail Gibbons.

multiple weather fact cards and Weather Fact Cards workbook with a white background

Facts about Tornadoes for Kids

Here are a bunch of fun facts that will intrigue your kids!

  1. The sky is dark and often has a greenish cast.
  2. The area of the central United States that frequently gets tornadoes is called “Tornado Alley.”
  3. The powerful winds may read over 300 miles per hour.
  4. A tornado may cause a swath of damage over one mile wide.
  5. Most tornadoes move from the southwest to the northeast.
  6. A funnel cloud must touch the ground before it becomes a tornado.
  7. Tornadoes happen when a warm current of air meets a cold current of air and forms a thunderstorm.
  8. Tornadoes are only easily seen once it has gathered dust and other debris inside the funnel.
  9. It is possible for a tornado to backtrack if it runs into winds from the eye of the thunderstorm.
  10. While a tornado can happen at any time, it’s most likely to appear between 3 pm and 9 pm.
  11. Most tornadoes last less than ten minutes.
  12. The average tornado will only travel 3-6 miles before disappearing.
  13. A tornado that occurs over water is called a waterspout.
  14. On March 18, 1925, a tornado lasted three hours and covered a distance of 219 miles.
  15. Antarctica is the only continent that hasn’t had a tornado.
  16. The United States of America experiences more tornado activity than any other country.
  17. Tornadoes can spin in both a clockwise and counterclockwise direction.
  18. Most tornadoes in the northern hemisphere spin in a counter-clockwise direction.
  19. A storm can create a number of tornadoes.
  20. While a mountain range rarely has tornadoes, it is possible for tornadoes to happen there.

Be sure to grab our free tornado vocabulary copywork instant download. 

Tornado Safety Tips

When you’re teaching children about these violent storms, make sure you cover a few basic safety tips so kids know how to stay safe during a tornado.

If a tornado is headed your way, the first step is to look for a safe place. A basement or a storm cellar are some of the safest places to be during a tornado. Otherwise, make your way to a safe room without any windows. An interior room in the central part of the house is optimal.

If you’re caught outside during this dangerous situation, you should immediately head towards a sturdy building. If no shelter is available, lie flat in the lowest spot you can find in the ground.

It’s a good idea to wear shoes and a helmet if possible. They may help to protect yourself from flying debris and glass on the ground.

Tornado Myths and Misconceptions

You may find that children have a few misconceptions about tornadoes. For instance, there is an idea that tornadoes will never strike the same place twice. This is not true, tornadoes can strike the same place multiple times.

Another myth is that opening the windows of your house will help to equalize the pressure and keep your home from exploding. Again, this is not true. The pressure during a tornado only drops about 10%.

Open windows will allow debris to fly into your home. Plus, it takes critical time when you should be looking for a safe place to hide.

You’ll also find that people believe a larger tornado is stronger than a skinnier tornado. Yes, normally, a tornado with a wide funnel is stronger than most skinny tornadoes.

But, some of the strongest tornadoes in history have been the skinny rope tornadoes.

What is Tornado Alley?

Tornado Alley is a nickname for a section of central North America. This area receives more than its share of violent tornadoes each year. It includes sections of Texas, Kansas, Oklahoma, Nebraska, South Dakota, North Dakota, Iowa, Colorado, and other midwest states.

Other Names for Tornadoes

You’ll find that there are quite a few other names for these spinning columns of air than just the word tornado. There are also twisters, cyclones, and funnels.

Although cyclones can refer to any storm with a low-pressure area that’s surrounded by a high-pressure area. A funnel cloud includes funnel-shaped clouds. It’s only when the funnel reaches the ground that it becomes a tornado.

Types of Tornadoes

When teaching kids all about tornadoes, it’s good to keep in mind that there are several different types of tornadoes you may run across. Kids may also ask about dust devils, which are not a type of tornado.

While a dust devil is a small whirlwind, it isn’t associated with thunderstorms and usually happens in the winter.

Supercell – A supercell includes a strong and deep updraft that’s called a mesocyclone. It’s likely to produce an extreme weather event like a tornado.

Waterspout – Sometimes, a tornado or whirlwind happens over a body of water. When this occurs, you have a waterspout.

Landspout – Usually, the funnel of a tornado begins in the sky and drops to the ground. A landspout is when the funnel begins on the ground and rises into the air.

Gustnado – A gustnado is a thunderstorm wind even that’s not connected to the storm system.

Multiple Vortex – This is when a tornado has several different funnels spinning around or part of the main funnel. Basically, you have two or more funnels within the same tornado.

Tornadoes Over Water

Two types of waterspouts may develop if a tornado or whirlwind happens over a body of water.

The fair weather waterspout begins spinning on the water before rising to the sky. It most often happens during light wind conditions, so it doesn’t move very much.

A tornadic waterspout is a tornado that develops over the water or it moves from land onto the water. It will include lightning, hail, and strong winds and seas.

Tornado Warnings and Watches

If the weather conditions are right for a tornado to develop, a tornado watch will be issued. This warns you that a tornado may develop in your general area so you know to stay aware of local conditions.

On the other hand, a tornado warning is when a tornado has been spotted. You need to take precautions to find shelter and make sure you’re safe.

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