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Page last updated at 12:33 GMT, Wednesday, 15 September 2010 13:33 UK
Wild Weather: UK is the world's 'tornado alley'


A tornado in the making at MOSI

Dr Sylvia Knight
Head of Education, Royal Meteorological Society

If someone asked you where in the world most tornadoes occur, most people would probably think first of the USA, and specifically 'tornado alley.'

On the plains between the Rocky and Appalachian Mountains, the USA does see well over 1,000 tornadoes form each year, some of them severe enough to cause widespread damage and even loss of life.

Tornado in the USA
Tornadoes in the USA can be up to a mile wide

However, surprisingly, you are actually more likely to see a tornado in the UK or the Netherlands than anywhere on the planet.

Whereas most tornadoes that form in the UK are weak, some only causing some dust on the ground to swirl around, American tornadoes can form which are over a mile wide.

Middleton in Manchester was hit by its own tornado on April 8th, 2006.

According to the Manchester Evening News, "the huge gust cut a swathe of damage along a 100-metre area, smashing windows of homes, flattening lampposts and blowing garage roofs 35 feet into the air".

Other recent UK tornadoes that have caused damage include the London Tornado in 2006, and the Birmingham tornado in 2005.


So what is a tornado - and can you make one to order?

The huge gust cut a swathe of damage along a 100 metre area, smashing windows of homes, flattening lampposts and blowing garage roofs 35 feet into the air.
Manchester Evening News report on a tornado in Middleton, 2006

A tornado is a violent, rotating column of air which stretches from the ground to the base of a storm or cumulonimbus cloud.

They form when the warm, moist air rushing in towards the base of the cloud meets cold, dry air and starts rotating.

At the Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI) in Manchester they have a machine which can make a mini whirlwind from either flame or water vapour.

Marieke Navin from MOSI explained why tornadoes can be so destructive.

"The fastest tornadoes rotate at up to 300 miles per hour but they're the most extreme cases. They don't move very fast. They travel about 16 metres per second but they can move for a few miles.

"But the funnel of the tornado... if that passed down your street it would obviously churn up everything in its path."

Watch a special programme on the region's Wild Weather at 7.30pm on BBC One, Monday 20th September.


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