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Teaching Kids About Tornadoes and Helping Others

Tuesday, May 21st, 2013

Chances are if you’ve been keeping up with the news about the tornado damage following yesterday’s twister that caused widespread devastation in Moore, Oklahoma, your kids are probably asking questions about tornadoes. It’s a great time to seize upon the teachable moment for a science lesson about tornadoes and to talk about ways your family might be able to help those affected.

What is a tornado? The definition of what a tornado is should depend on the age of your child. According to Weather WizKids, a tornado is a “violent rotating column of air extending from a thunderstorm to the ground.” Younger children need simple explanations with concrete examples so illustrate this by rotating a household funnel. National Geographic Kids has an easy to understand video for kids called Forces of Nature: Tornadoes 101. Older children will want more in-depth information and may have questions about tornado-related vocabulary that can be answered through the glossary of tornado terms on

Are there different types of tornadoes? Yes, there various kinds and shapes of tornadoes. Tornadoes can also appear to be different colors! The different or kinds of tornadoes and their cousins are described on The Weather Channel Kids! and pictures of some types of tornadoes can be found on

How does it form? Tornadoes form in complex weather conditions, usually when two large air masses of varying temperatures collide. RiaNovosti has a great graphic showing tornado formation but younger ages will probably understand the animation of formation and destruction of a tornado on

What’s more dangerous? A hurricane or a tornado? According to, hurricanes take days to develop whereas tornadoes tend to develop quickly but it’s hard to determine which is more dangerous.

Will a tornado hit where we live? It depends. According to National Earth Science Teachers Association’s Windows to the  Universe site, 75% of tornadoes happen in the United States. Most of these occur in the Great Plains, a place that weather watchers call “Tornado Alley.” Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota, North Dakota, Iowa, Missouri, Arkansas, and Louisiana comprise Tornado Alley and while tornadoes are common in these states, it does not mean that they can’t occur in other states.

Are we safe? It’s always a good idea to make sure everyone in your family knows your emergency plan for any disaster that could strike. The Federal Emergency Management Agency’s page on tornadoes has information about how to prepare before a tornado, what to do if your area is under a tornado warning, and what to do after.’s Family Emergency Plan is a free, printable PDF that can be filled out so family member’s names, healthcare information, etc. is in one place and easiy accessible.

How can we help? Not only is a great time to teach your kids about tornadoes and review your family emergency plan, but it’s an excellent time to reinforce charitable acts by figuring out how you can help. Type A Parents’ How to Help the Oklahoma Tornado Victims by Kelby Carr shares ways families can offer assistance. Talk as a family and choose a method that works well for you or come up with a strategy to raise money for those affected.

Tornado about to make damage via Shutterstock

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