How The Eye of a Tornado Works


Announcer: Welcome to Stuff You Should Know from howstuffworks.com.

Josh Clark: Hi, and welcome to the Podcast. I'm Josh Clark; a staff writer here at howstuffworks.com. With me is fellow staff writer's goatee; Charles Bryant. How are you, Chuck?

Chuck Bryant: I'm great and my goatee is long and strong.

Josh Clark: It's looking good, Chuck. You're taking excellent care of it.

Chuck Bryant: I like to keep it clean.

Josh Clark: So, Chuck, you may not know this but I actually grew up in Toledo, Ohio. You ever been?

Chuck Bryant: I have not and my wife is from Ohio but never been to Toledo.

Josh Clark: It's actually a surprisingly cool town. The problem is it's at the end of Tornado Ally so I've seen plenty of tornados in my life and each one is scarier than the last. Spent many nights at, like, 2:00 in the morning in the basement listening to the radio!

Chuck Bryant: Right. That had nothing to do with the tornados though.

Josh Clark: No, it totally didn't. That was more dear old dad than anything. So, I have seen some tornados and actually I thought I kind of left them behind when we got down here to Atlanta.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, not the case.

Josh Clark: No. And you remember recently there were some tornados that ripped through downtown. It was the first time ever so they go through and just tear the roof off of the suckers and it's just ugly. It looks post-apocalyptic downtown still several weeks later -

Chuck Bryant: And before even.

Josh Clark: The thing is though, I've seen some tornados here or there, I've never been in the eye of a tornado.

Chuck Bryant: Well, no, you know why, because only two people have that we know of and you're not one of them.

Josh Clark: No, I'm not. I'm not, and if I had, I probably wouldn't tell anybody anyway.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, it actually has happened a couple of times though on record and it's pretty amazing.

Josh Clark: Well, why don't you tell everybody first what - how a tornado forms.

Chuck Bryant: Well, yeah, I guess that would help. A tornado is - the thunderstorm comes in and the lower atmosphere, the wind picks up and creates a horizontal spinning tube on the ground and then once the storm comes through, the rising air tilts it up and then you get what you normally think of as the tornado, which is the vertical [inaudible] -

Josh Clark: So, it's kind of like a guy who's on his back is pushed up by his shoulders and now he's standing?

Chuck Bryant: And spinning.

Josh Clark: And spinning and hundreds of miles an hour.

Chuck Bryant: Wrecking havoc, exactly. Up to 300 miles an hour winds.

Josh Clark: Is that as fast as they get?

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, it's crazy. I mean, it's extremely destructive as everyone knows.

Josh Clark: Now, I know you mentioned that actually tornados are generally invisible since wind is invisible but that's it's - I read that it's actually the debris and the dust that's kicked up that gives tornados their shape, which is funny, because tornados are called funnel clouds but it's not really a cloud, it's dirt and debris and cows and pickup trucks.

Chuck Bryant: Right, from the movie Twister, cows flying across your screen. Yeah, that's one of the myths. Another one is that you should open your windows of your house to let a tornado pass through. That's not true at all either. So -

Josh Clark: Yeah, a lot of people think that the low-pressure found in a tornado makes your house explode, it's actually flying debris.

Chuck Bryant: No, that's not true. Yeah, flying cows!

Josh Clark: Yeah, exactly. And I read NOAH suggested that - that's not anyone we know name Noah, it's the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration or Agency, one of the two, they suggest not touching your windows, leaving them closed and -

Chuck Bryant: Right, and get to the basement.

Josh Clark: Exactly. Which is just good advice anyway.

Chuck Bryant: It is.

Josh Clark: Yeah. So, let's get back to these guys. You found two and it was just two and this is Chuck's article by the way everyone. It's a great one, too.

Chuck Bryant: I appreciate that. Yeah, these two guys; one was in 1928 and one was in 1943 so it hasn't happened in a long time, which is kind of strange, and they were both farmers, go figure, out in the middle of - I think one was in Kansas and his name was Keller, Farmer Keller -

Josh Clark: Yeah, Farmer Will Keller.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, Farmer Keller and he saw a tornado coming and he'd seen a bunch of these things. This is his account so he wasn't really scared. He got his family down in the storm cellar but before he climbed in, he - for some reason, I guess he was kind of transfixed. He decided to kind of stay there and watch this thing as it approached and it actually, you know, tornados can hope up and leap and I think it kind of hopped up on top of him and the inside of a tornado -

Josh Clark: [Inaudible] had to be quite a surprise.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, it's like the eye of a hurricane, it's supposed to be really calm. So, that explains why he didn't get sucked up in the funnel cloud, and much like the movie Twister, they must have researched these guys - they - it was really smooth on the inside and there was constant lightening which lit it up from the inside and kind of a bluish-green tint and these little tiny twisters would break away from the walls and -

Josh Clark: And make a hissing sound?

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, and zip over to the other side of the wall and it was just really insane.

Josh Clark: I imagine.

Chuck Bryant: And the other guy was another farmer in Texas and he had pretty much -

Josh Clark: Roy Hall, right?

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, Roy Hall. He had basically the same account which - so, everyone pretty much feels like this is what it's like.

Josh Clark: The thing is, with Keller, I was - I couldn't understand why he would just stand there. At the very least, Mr. Hall, who I think it happened to - it's a few years later, he actually went in the house, the tornado tore his roof off and all of a sudden he found himself in the eye of the storm, but a similar experience, right?

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, it raised the roof. Uh-huh.

Josh Clark: It raised the roof.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, exactly the same thing, you know, lightening inside and really smooth walls and they both felt a sense of calm and oddly while being in the center of this thing. And the storm in Texas actually killed a hundred people in the town but he wasn't one of them.

Josh Clark: But it left Farmer Roy alone.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, thankfully.

Josh Clark: Well, if you want to learn more about what it's like in the eye of a tornado, read, "What's it like in the eye of a tornado," on howstuffworks.com.

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