Inside the Museum of Science and Industry

The “Science of Storms” exhibit at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago.

CHICAGO (WOOD) — Inside the “Science of Storms” exhibit at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago stands a tornado machine that is several stories high, a Tesla coil with active lightning, and wind tunnels featuring speeds up to 80 mph.


This wind tunnel features winds of 80 mph, the equivalent of a small tornado. A tornado producing winds this fast can tear shingles off roofs and push moving cars off roads. The strongest tornado that rolled through West Michigan in 1965 was an F4 which features winds of 260 mph. This is strong enough to completely level secure houses and to pick up and throw cars.


Wind is an interesting thing. If you double the wind speed, the force of the wind is quadrupled! So when a tornado’s speed increases from 80 to 160 mph, the 160 mph tornado does four times more damage!


Often times a weak tornado will only have a single suction spot. A suction spot is the part of the tornado touching ground. It is where we find the most intense winds at the surface. However, when a tornado gets particularly strong, it will undergo “vortex breakdown”. If this happens a tornado will go from having a single suction spot to two, three, or more. All of these suction spots rotate around the base of the tornado.


Multiple suction spots can often be blamed for the “skipping tornado” damage pattern people frequently observed in strong tornadoes.

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