Rain-wrapped tornadoes develop when there is a thunderstorm and the atmosphere has an extremely high moisture content. Detecting this type of tornado is almost impossible because the funnel structure that identifies most tornadoes is hidden by the rain. They often aren’t seen until they are dangerously close, and at that point it is often too late to seek safety or shelter.
The Danger of Rain Wrapped Tornadoes
A rain-wrapped tornado presents specific kinds of danger when compared to other kinds of tornadoes. That is because rain-wrapped tornadoes are much more difficult to see until it is too late to get to cover.
Most rain-wrapped tornadoes are impossible to see from a distance.
This kind of tornado is very common in areas outside of the Plains areas of the United States. When we think of tornadoes, we tend to think of states in Tornado Alley, but rain-wrapped tornadoes tend to occur elsewhere.
How do Tornadoes Form?
The energy that is released during a thunderstorm creates the perfect conditions for a tornado to form.
A tornado contains only a small amount of the thunderstorm’s energy, but it is concentrated into a relatively small space. This concentration of energy is what creates the high wind speeds and dangerous conditions of a tornado.
Rain Wrapped Tornadoes are Difficult to Detect
Not only is it more difficult to identify rain wrapped tornadoes visually, these twisters are significantly more difficult for radar to detect.
Recently, however, there have been updates to the National Weather Service (NWS) Doppler radar that makes it more likely to detect this kind of tornado. This upgrade consisted of dual polarization technology.
Dual polarization technology allows scientists to perceive debris that is kicked up when a tornado touches down.
How visible a tornado will be depends on the kind of supercell storm that is linked to it.
- If the supercell is LP (low precipitation), then the tornado is more likely to be visible.
- A HP (high precipitation) supercell storm is more likely to lead to a rain-wrapped tornado.
With a rain-wrapped tornado, it’s very difficult to tell if you are seeing a rain curtain or a tornado until the tornado is extremely close. This is one reason why rain-wrapped tornadoes can be especially dangerous for people in vehicles.
Rain-Wrapped Tornadoes and Wind Speeds
It has been approximated that the highest wind speeds a tornado can generate are about 300 miles per hour. Those are extremely fast wind speeds and would be characteristic of a severe tornado that could even lift and blow around automobiles.
The debris being blown around by the wind is often the most dangerous part of a tornado for human beings. Even objects that do not seem hazardous in themselves can become lethal when they are being blown around by the winds of a tornado.
In the United States, rain-wrapped tornadoes are most common in areas like Dixie Alley.
Where is Dixie Alley?
Dixie Alley includes the states in the southeast with humid climates that tend to generate severe thunderstorms.
The states in Dixie Alley include:
- Louisiana, and
- eastern Texas.
Rain-wrapped tornadoes in this region not only have strong wind speeds but also tend to stay on the ground for longer periods of time.
Tornadoes in Dixie Alley tend to travel more quickly than those elsewhere, meaning that there is less time for to detect them and issue warnings. This combined with the fact that rain-wrapped tornadoes are much less visible and harder to detect means that Dixie Alley tornadoes are especially dangerous.
More About the Dangers of This Type of Storm
As mentioned earlier, rain-wrapped tornadoes can be especially hazardous, and even lethal, for motorists.
Since rain-wrapped tornadoes are more difficult to detect and almost impossible to see until they are too close, a severe tornado of this variety can be especially lethal. People may not have time to find shelter and safety before it touches down.
On March 31, 2011, several severe rain-wrapped tornadoes hit Central Florida. Violent thunderstorms that were in the area led to tornado formation. Some people referred to these tornadoes as invisible because people did not see them before they actually hit. The tornadoes caused serious damage and even flipped over small airplanes at an airport. They also destroyed trees and cars.
While it’s true that Dixie Alley has fewer tornadoes per year than Tornado Alley, there tend to be more deaths resulting from tornadoes in southeastern and mid-southern states.
This is because the rain-wrapped tornadoes are more difficult to detect and tend to take place in areas with greater population density.
Tornado Safety Tips
No matter where you live (but especially if you live in a place that gets many tornadoes per year), you should have a tornado safety plan in place. This is essential to keep yourself and your family safe and secure during these storms.
Learn about the tornado season in the US, and find out if your area has outdoor tornado warning sirens and know what they sound like.
Also make inquiries to find out the tornado safety instructions provided by your region.
Sign up for alerts that come to your cell phone for tornado watches and warnings.
Consider getting a battery-operated emergency radio that you can bring to your underground shelter with you during a storm.
It is also a good idea to have some bottled water and food.
One of the most important rules of tornado safety is that you should go to an underground shelter immediately upon receiving a tornado watch or warning. A basement is ideal.
If you do not have an underground shelter, then you should go to the lowest level of your home. Choose a space that is far away from windows or outside walls. This will reduce the chances that flying debris or broken glass will strike you.