A tornado is a violently rotating column of air extending from the base of a storm cloud (cumulonimbus) to the ground.

Tornadoes can occur at any time during the year, but they are most prevalent during the spring months when warm, humid air is colliding with cool, dry air. These battling air masses create instability in our atmosphere causing large storms or super cells to form. A key ingredient in the formation of tornadoes is what is known as wind shear, which refers to the variation of wind over either horizontal or vertical distances.

During a thunderstorm, meteorologists look for  S-L-I-M, which stands for Shear, Lift, Instability and Moisture. Moisture, lift and instability are needed for the development of thunderstorms, but the shear is what can make an ordinary thunderstorm into a severe storm capable of producing a tornado. It is important to listen to local weather officials for watches and warnings for your area.

  • A Tornado Watch means that the conditions in our atmosphere are favorable for severe weather and/or tornado development and that you need to “watch” for updates from your local officials.
  • A Tornado Warning means you need to “act now” and take shelter because severe weather is occurring or will occur soon for your area. A “warning” means that a tornado has been spotted on the ground or on RADAR, and you need to get to your safe place.

What is considered a “safe place?” A safe place means to  move inside, away from windows, in the most interior room. Try to put as many walls between you and the outdoors. Keep a phone or radio nearby and wait for the all clear before returning to normal activities.

North Carolina started its severe weather season in March. Stay safe and informed all season long.



Make Your Own Tornado in a Bottle

  • Water
  • A clear plastic bottle with a cap (that won’t leak)
  • Glitter
  • Dish washing liquid

  1. Fill the plastic bottle with water until it reaches around three quarters full.
  2. Add a few drops of dish washing liquid.
  3. Sprinkle in a few pinches of glitter (this will make your tornado easier to see).
  4. Put the cap on tightly.


Turn the bottle upside down and hold it by the neck. Quickly spin the bottle in a circular motion for a few seconds. Stop and look inside to see if you can see a mini tornado forming in the water. You might need to try it a few times before you get it working properly.