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Name: Sierra
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Question:
Why do so many tornados form in the midwest United States? (vs. not many in Europe for example).


Replies:
The middle part of the US is just right for tornados.

It is flat.
It gets very hot.
It has very fast changing weather.

Europe is too far north to get hot enough. If you look at a globe you will see how far north compared to say, Kansas or Oklahoma. Actually, Europe can get tornados, but they are so rare no one worries about them. Russia which is flat enough doesn't get hot enough, just like Europe.

Robert Avakian


Sierra,

There are a couple of answers on the Ask-A-Scientist site that can provide more detailed reasons, but basically, the reason is primarily the unique geography of the central United States of America. The Rocky Mountains form a very long north-south barrier to air flowing from west to east (which causes the air to dry as it drops water within the Rockies and warms as it descends from the eastern edge of the mountains), the Plains states east of the Rockies provide a strong heat (and sometimes moisture) source, the normal wind direction pattern in Spring and Summer brings moist air at mid-levels of the atmosphere from the Gulf of Mexico into the central part of the country, and the jet stream typically aligns itself from southwest to northeast in the Plains states. These characteristics are not necessarily completely independent of each other, but they combine to provide the right conditions to produce strong squall lines with embedded thunderstorms, as well as isolated supercell thunderstorms.

You may notice one of my answers in Ask-A-Scientist that explains the strong thunderstorm activity in the Southeast during early to late Spring, whereas the strongest thunderstorm activity in the Plains states occurs in late Spring and early Summer.

David R. Cook
Meteorologist
Climate Research Section
Environmental Science Division
Argonne National Laboratory


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