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Name: Nathan
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Question:
What is the lowest temperature at which a tornado can form?


Replies:
Nathan,

I do not think that we can specify a minimum temperature for tornado formation, as a tornado can (and do) form in the wintertime, particularly in the southern Plains states and the southeastern part of the USA (although they can extend up through the midwestern states). These tornado situations are typically associated with a thunderstorm embedded in a winter cold front. In the winter there can be some dramatic differences in temperature and humidity between the air mass preceding the cold front (not much above freezing and humid) and the air behind the cold front (well below freezing and dry), leading to strong thunderstorm development and tornados.

Interestingly, there are usually more fatalities from winter tornados than from Spring tornados, even though winter tornados tend to have shorter tracks and are not as intense. This is because the areas where they occur are more vulnerable; a much higher percentage of the population in these areas live in mobile homes, which provide little protection from tornados, and the tornados are more difficult to detect since they are embedded in cold fronts with their associated rain/snow (as opposed to Spring supercell tornados which people are more alert to since they can more easily see the supercell approaching).

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


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