Where Tornadoes Happen


Students will understand where tornadoes happen.

Engage students with class conversations and visuals of tornado distributions.

Explain the geography of tornadoes in depth through online reading and in-class discussion.

  • Ask students to recall the images of tornadoes they have seen (either in from the first section of this teaching box, from personal experience, or tornadoes images from news media). Have students describe the landscape where these tornadoes occured (i.e. flat plains, grasslands). Ask students where in the United States landscapes like this are located. Most tornadoes occur in the Great Plains of the central United States because its an ideal environment for the formation of severe thunderstorms which cause tornadoes. Follow this introduction with a reading or video such as:
    • Tornado Alley, a reading from NOAA, explains that storms are caused when dry cold air moving south from Canada meets warm moist air traveling north from the Gulf of Mexico.
    • Tornado Tracks, a video from IDV Solutions, is a stunning visual presentation of the tornadoes in the United States from 1950 - 2011. Ask students to identify the areas that have the most and least tornadoes. Ask students what geographic features they notice that may influence where tornadoes happen.

Elaborate and extend student understanding of tornado occurance through data analysis.

Extension for indpendent or small group study.

  • Oakfield, WI Case Study: This activity from the University of Wisconsin-Madison's Cooperate Institute for Meteorological Satellite Studies guides students to learn about a tornado by making a contour map and analyzing satellite images and Doppler radar. (Note: This advanced activity can take one to three class periods.)

Evaluate learning by having students interpret tornado data or through writing.

  • The Twister Dashboard Investigation guides students to interpret tornado data by exploring Esri's ArcGIS-based Story Map Twister Dashboard.
  • Have students construct a written response to one of the following prompts:
    • Where would you recommend scientists set up weather stations to monitor for conditions that could produce a tornado? Have students use at least three sources to justify their answer. (Student answers should include data of tornado frequency, specific locations based on geography, and expectations for having additional data.)
    • Where should the National Weather Service target public safety campaigns? Write a recommendation to the National Weather Service and use at least three sources to justify your answer. (Student answers should include specific geographic regions, plan to gather additional data, recommendations for communication strategy)