Real tornadoes are known to take up heavy objects and, in a sense, throw them a considerable distance since they rotate so swiftly and cause enormous destruction. Because of this, even during a snowstorm, the majority of people have valid reasons to be terrified of tornadoes.
So, can you have a tornado with snow? Tornadoes are rare during a snowstorm. This is because the weather conditions that favor the creation of tornadoes are only partially compatible with those that create snowstorms.
Keep reading below for more information.
Can You Have a Tornado With Snow?
Observational data shows that tornadoes can form amid snow, but only in small-scale snowstorms coupled with thunderstorms, unlike more typical, widespread snowstorms.
There are a few credible accounts of tornadoes occurring in areas with temperatures at or close to freezing; however, it is unclear how these tornadoes form. The particular mechanism by which a tornado arises is still a mystery to scientists.
According to many theories, when rain evaporates, it cools the air, and when it does so in a certain area of the downdraft of a thunderstorm, it triggers the creation of tornadoes. However, when snow is present, “sublimation,” the direct conversion of snowflakes to water vapor, takes the place of evaporation, which is a much slower and less vigorous process.
This may be why it is more difficult to create a tornado during a snowstorm, yet it is still possible.
Why Tornadoes Don’t Occur During Snow Storms
Although tornadoes can occur at any time of the day or night, you won’t have to worry about them developing during a snowfall. Warm, humid air close to the surface is one of the most crucial environmental conditions for tornado development.
As a result, the air above the ground gradually becomes warmer as a direct consequence of the sun’s heat. This leads to certain air parcels becoming warmer than their surroundings, creating an unstable atmosphere.
“In a snowstorm, it’s just simply too cold. You could have a perfect wind profile for tornadoes, but without that main component of warm, humid air, tornadoes will not form.” – Greg Diamond, a meteorologist with FOX Weather
That is not to say that a tornado cannot develop before a blizzard. This was the situation on November 15, 1989, in Huntsville, Alabama.
An EF-4 tornado with speeds of 125 mph made landfall southwest of the city around 4:30 p.m. and then traveled toward densely populated areas. More than 1,000 automobiles, 12 apartment complexes, three churches, and 80 businesses were damaged in the Airport Road neighborhood.
It went on a course that would ultimately destroy hundreds of houses and an elementary school. There were a total of 21 fatalities and hundreds more injuries. The next day, crews were still looking for the accident victims as temperatures dropped and snow began to fall.
Can a Tornado Occur During the Winter?
Blizzards and ice storms, which may shut down large portions of the country, are often the most common winter weather phenomena in the United States. Tornadoes do occur at this time of year, albeit they are less common than they are in the spring. They may also be just as severe.
Are Winter Tornadoes Rare?
Although less frequent than spring or summer tornadoes, NOAA reported that December tornadoes may still be devastating. 22 powerful EF-4 and EF-5 tornadoes struck in December between December 1879 and December 2021, according to authorities.
Snownados vs. Dust Devils
Because they resemble dust devils considerably more so than tornadoes, snownados are frequently referred to as “snow devils.” A spinning thunderstorm is necessary for the development of a tornado.
As it spreads and approaches the earth, the storm’s rotation accelerates as it descends towards the surface. Essentially, dust devils and snownados start at the ground and gradually rise into the sky.
Someone who has ever spent a hot day in a flat place is likely to have witnessed a dust devil. When the earth warms up under the blazing sun, the air close to the surface also warms up, creating these spirals. The cooler air above it will then allow this thin layer of heated air to ascend.
If a slight breeze strikes it in the appropriate direction, this tiny column of rising air can start to rotate, and the dust devil appears as the column of rising air that goes upward. Most dust devils are around the size of people or trees. Still, some of those that form in arid regions may rise several kilometers into the air and have winds comparable to those of a small tornado.
For more information on a snownado, watch this video below:
Do Snow Tornadoes Happen Often?
Snow devils, often known as “snownados,” are incredibly uncommon atmospheric events. In fact, they are so uncommon that only six have ever been documented, four of which are from Ontario, Canada. These phenomena are so rare because they need a set of highly particular climatic circumstances to manifest.
Snownadoes are so uncommon that nothing is understood about them. However, because they develop over frozen lakes or snow-covered places, they are closely connected to waterspouts, a revolving column of air that occurs over water.
A cooler air mass moving over a surface that is heated by sunshine, as well as low-level wind shear (a change in wind velocity or direction with height) or clashing air currents to cause the rising air to spin, are required for the occurrence of snow devils.
If there is a column of cooler, low-pressure air above this mist, it will start to rise, and the wind shear or tides will drive it to rotate and continue to pick up scattered snow, making the familiar funnel shape. A warmer surface leads the snow or ice to produce fog or steam.
Because of the mixture of these factors, snownados are much more uncommon and less deadly than tornadoes. However, reports of snownados up to 30 feet wide, 45 feet high, and able to carry 1,500 pounds of items have been made.
Snow squalls are brief, intense bursts of heavy snowfall, sometimes accompanied by high winds, and snownados typically occur during or just before one, signaling the possibility of further snowfall.
In conclusion, while it’s possible for winter tornadoes to occur, even during a snowstorm, it’s extremely unlikely, and the number of times it has happened can be counted on fingers. So, that’s one less thing to worry about in the event of a snowstorm.