Sometimes, during a very strong thunderstorm, a funnel-shaped cloud extends down from the rest of the storm clouds. This is a column of air swirling dangerously fast. If it doesn’t reach the ground, it’s called a funnel cloud. If it does reach the ground, it’s called a tornado. 

Where the narrow end of the funnel touches the ground, everything flies around in the wind - from dirt and leaves to cars and roofs. Often a tornado will touch the ground for only a few minutes and travel less than a mile. But some tornadoes touchdown for much longer, plowing through towns, neighborhoods, or farms.

Some tornadoes are narrow - only as wide as five big rig trucks - where they touch the ground. Other tornadoes are huge - up to two miles across. 

More tornadoes happen in the central United States than anywhere else in the world. 

A tornado kicks up dirt and other objects on the ground as it touches down in the plains

The powerful winds of a tornado are able to pick up objects on the ground. The smaller and lighter the object, the more likely it is to be picked up by the tornado's winds.

Ken Engquist/NOAA Weather in Focus

Ocean water with a small island in the foreground and a waterspout in the background

Tornadoes that happen over the water are called waterspouts.

Espen Bierud on Unsplash