How and why hurricanes spawn tornadoes (videos)

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Hurricane Irma wasn’t the only threat to hit Florida this weekend; tornadoes have been a scary offshoot.

Tornadoes are a natural occurrence during as a result of hurricanes as they move over land and thus, Hurricane Irma has been spawning tornadoes throughout South Florida.

Many parts of Florida, especially on the east coast, and parts of Georgia went under tornado watches on Sunday.

A tornado that touched down in east-central Florida’s Palm Bay late Sunday morning damaged homes, according to the National Weather Service. While that was happening, Irma’s eye wall was spinning off the Everglades, more than 150 miles to the southwest.

According to CNN’s weather experts, “That tornado’s location — well away from the hurricane’s core, and in the storm’s front-right quadrant (relative to the hurricane’s direction) — is typical for cyclone-produced tornadoes.”

Here are some facts you should know about hurricane-spawned twisters:

  • Nearly all tropical cyclones that hit the United States produce at least one tornado, “provided enough of the … cyclone’s circulation moves over land,” the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said.
  • Tornadoes thrive in part on strong vertical shear, which means a difference in horizontal winds’ direction and speed at different heights. Tropical cyclones offer a lot of vertical shear.
  • In the Northern Hemisphere, vertical shear is especially pronounced in a tropical cyclone’s front-right (generally the northeast) quadrant.
  • Most tornadoes happen in a tropical cyclone’s outer rain bands, about 50 to 200 miles from the center, though some have been spawned near the inner core.

Hurricane-spawned tornadoes are typically a little weaker and dissipate faster than a tornado spawned in Kansas, for instance. Besides vertical sheer, tornadoes thrive on an unstable atmosphere — and most instability happens at lower altitudes for a tropical cyclone than for a storm at higher latitudes. So, the tornado-producing storm cells from a hurricane “tend to be smaller and shallower,” according to NOAA.

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