Initial Publication Date: February 20, 2013

Tornado Visualizations

Compiled by Rob Thomas and John McDaris of SERC.
Animations and films that illustrate or help students investigate how tornadoes form, current research about the science involved, and the effects of tornados of different strengths.

Browse the complete set of Visualization Collections. If you have comments or additional resources to add to the page, use our Feedback box to let us know.

Jump to: Other Videos | Simulations | Tornado Formation | Interactive Visualizations | Maps

May 22, 2011 Joplin, MO, Tornado

Joplin, MO, Tornadic Supercell - McIDAS images of GOES-13 0.63 µm visible channel data showed the rapid development of the supercell thunderstorm that produced the deadly tornado at Joplin, Missouri (station identifier JLN) on 22 May 2011.
Before And After: A Bird's-Eye View Of Joplin - Aerial before and after images of the area around Joplin High School just two days after a deadly tornado on May 22, 2011. NPR has also put together a collection of side-by-side Street Views before and after the storm.
Devastating tornado in Joplin, Missouri - This amateur footage by four meteorology students shows the tornado from several perspectives and also its development over time. The end of the video shows some of the aftermath of the tornado's passing.

April 2011 Tornado Outbreaks

Tuscaloosa Tornado 4-2011 U of A
Witness to Dangerous Tornado (April 27, 2011) - Chris England of Crimson Tide Productions filmed this tornado as it approached the campus of the University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa. The tornado pictured is likely an EF4 or EF5 (Enhanced Fujita Tornado Damage Scale).

Double Tornado
Double Tornado (April 27, 2011) - This video shows what appears to be a double tornado or double funnel as it moved through Cullman, Alabama. The video was shot by Dixon Thuston of Birmingham.

Tuscaloosa Tornado 4-2011 CBS42
Tornado in Tuscaloosa, AL (April 27, 2011) - This live weather coverage from CBS42 in Birmingham shows very clear images of the tornado that tore through the city of Tuscaloosa, AL. Clickable Map
Click and Interact: Tornado Outbreak Strikes the South - This page from features a clickable map outlining reports of tornadoes (red symbols) that have devastated parts of the South since Monday.

Tuscaloosa Tornado 4-2011
Tuscaloosa Tornado (April 27, 2011) - Video of the tornado in Tuscaloosa, AL taken by Clay Hasenfuss.

Tornado Damage Before and After U of A
Tornado Damage Before and After: Tuscaloosa - This picture, published on the jimmyjosh blog shows the before and after at a point south of the University of Alabama looking north toward campus.

Record April: Severe Weather Scorecard - This set of pages from goes over each April 2011 severe weather event, with maps, notable tidbits, and links to articles, video and/or photo collections.

Other Videos

Catching a Tornado, National Geographic (more info) A series of three Flash-based movies captured from a meteorological probe placed in the path of an oncoming tornado, documenting the high wind speeds, the debris carried by the storm, and the motion of the funnel as it passes along the ground. The film features footage from six different on-board cameras, each facing in a different direction to give a 360° view of the storm. - Researchers put out ground-based probes to gather data about tornadoes. One of these proves receives an almost direct hit as a tornado passes over and manages to catch up-close video and data.

Tuscaloosa Tornado 12-2000
F4 Tuscaloosa, Alabama Tornado - December 16, 2000 - ABC 33/40 coverage of the December 16, 2000 Tuscaloosa F4 tornado captured live by the towercam in Tuscaloosa.

Train vs. Tornado - This surveillance video shows what happens when a tornado and a train occupy the same piece of track. The page also contains the National Weather Service report on the tornado that caused the damage.


Tornado Simulation, National Center for Supercomputing Applications (more info) A Flash-based animation of an incredibly detailed tornado simulation, including both particles and ribbons to demonstrate wind motion and the tornado's activity. Moving particles are color coded as they rise and fall, and cone-shaped particles on the ground show the direction of the wind's pull at the Earth's surface. Visually stunning, and information rich, this animation was originally produced for use in an episode of the PBS series NOVA.

Tornado-forming supercell simulation, National Center for Supercomputing Applications ( This site may be offline. ) A Flash-based animation of a simulation of a supercell thunderstorm that forms a tornado. This rendering is designed to show cloud movement as the storm forms, including the formation of the vortex and the subsequent updraft of the thunderstorm. This animation is another originally produced for use in an episode of the PBS series NOVA.

Examine an animation of a tornado, McDougal Littell ( This site may be offline. ) A Flash-based computer simulation of the movement of air within the vortex of a tornado. The 3D tornado is color-coded by air pressure, and air motion can be seen as the tornado picks up marker particles and carries them through the vortex. Buildings can also be overlaid on the tornado in order to give a sense of the size of the simulated vortex.

Tornado Simulations, Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center (more info) MPEG simulations of tornados, including 3D models of both wind movement using particles, and 3D models of pressure changes and motion within the vortex. This series of four visualizations demonstrates these tornadic features using different rendering techniques and different particles moving within the storm.

Tornado/Microburst Simulator, Iowa State (more info) This Windows Media Video uses dry ice and particles to show the flow of air within the Iowa State Tornado Simulator, used for testing models as in a wind tunnel. The video offers a chance to see air motion within the funnel, and also observe how the vortex moves as the tornado speeds across the simulated ground.

Tornado Formation

Birth of a Tornado, MSNBC (more info) A Flash-based slide show that uses animation to show how winds combine to create the possibility of a tornado within a supercell storm. The feature explains how atmoshperic conditions increase the likelihood of tornados, and where tornados are most likely to form within a storm.

How Tornadoes Form, USA Today (more info) A Flash-based interactive using diagrams to explain, in simple terms, how and under what conditions tornados form. Also included are tips for tornado safety: indoors, outdoors, and, specifically, near overpasses.

Interactive Visualizations

Interactive Twister, The Why Files, University of Wisconsin (more info) This Java applet allows students to determine the size and core pressure difference of a tornado, and unleash it on trees, a trailer, a house, a car, and a cow to see its destructive effects. After the simulated storm, students are asked to asses the magnitude of the tornado using the F-scale, showing the relationship of size, core pressure difference, and the resulting damage.

Rate Tornado Damage, NOVA (more info) An interactive Flash animation that educates students about the Fujita scale for rating tornado wind speeds and the damage caused by tornados. After being presented with photographs of tornado damage, students are challenged to assign the tornado a rating on the F-scale. The interactive explains the different levels of the F-scale and provides instant feedback on whether or not the correct category was assigned to the tornado.


Animations of Severe Weather Annual Cycle, National Severe Storm Laboratory (more info) This collection of Java applets uses animated maps of the United States to illustrate the probability of severe weather for each week of an average year. The maps help to illustrate how the likelihood of tornados changes over the course of a year and how the chances of tornados vary by region. Maps are available to show the probability of any tornado, or the probability of only significant and violent tornados.