April 2011 saw the worst day of U.S. tornadoes since 1974, and a new analysis points to fires in Central America as part of the cause. (National Geographic News)
Create your own “perfect storm” of a tornado using our Forces of Nature interactive.
Teachers, scroll down for a short list of key resources in our Teachers’ Toolkit.
- Read through the Nat Geo News article. The article says the new study’s authors “hope that meteorologists will begin to consider air pollution a risk factor when making tornado forecasts.” What type of air pollution do they think contributed to the devastating tornado outbreak of 2011?
- Smoke was the primary air pollutant scientists associated with the 2011 tornadoes.
- How may smoke and soot contribute to the formation of tornadoes?
- According to the Nat Geo News article, “Like a dark car interior, soot soaks up the sun and then radiates that energy as heat. Heating the atmosphere [in the simulation conducted by the scientists] led to cloud formation at lower heights, which is a common risk factor for tornadoes. Winds at low altitudes also became more variable in speed and direction, setting up wind shear, also an ingredient in tornado formation.”
- What are more familiar factors that contribute to the formation of tornadoes? Take a look at our illustration for some help.
- The speed and direction of wind (wind shear), the amount of moisture in the air, and air temperature all contribute to the formation of a tornado.
- Scientists studied data from NASA’s amazing Aqua satellite to make the correlation between smoke and tornadoes. What are the two big data sets that Aqua supplied?
- Aqua used its infrared camera to track the heat of fires set every spring in Central America. Such fires clear land for agriculture.
- “The spacecraft also measures sunlight reflected by aerosols, giving shape to the plume of smoke belched out by the fires. Estimates of the amount of smoke that reached the United States were fed into a computer simulation that included the weather conditions [from the 2011 tornado season].”
Nat Geo: Smoke From Land Clearing Fed Deadliest Tornado Outbreak in Decades
Nat Geo: Forces of Nature interactive
Nat Geo: In Harm’s Way
Nat Geo: What is meteorology?
Nat Geo: What is air pollution?