Tornadoes are some of nature’s most chaotic weather events. They often come seemingly out of nowhere and disappear just as quickly as they appeared.
That said, some tornadoes can take between 10 – 20 minutes to spawn from a supercell thunderstorm and stick around for hours, causing mass destruction to communities.
In this post, we’re going to answer a question that many storm chasers and tornado enthusiasts are eager to learn the answer to. Can tornadoes be invisible?
Typically tornadoes are associated with a funnel cloud that stems down from the clouds to the ground. However, sometimes tornadoes can be almost invisible and only be seen by the debris that is swirling around in the vortex.
Can Tornadoes Really Be Invisible?
Whilst it is possible for a tornado to be invisible, it’s very unlikely. Tornadoes pick up lots of dirt and debris whilst on their path which makes them visible and easy to observe.
Many tornadoes only take debris up to a height of around 100 feet, which makes the mid and upper part of the tornado invisible.
This is especially true for newly formed tornadoes that have not yet had the opportunity to pick up a lot of dirt and debris.
With that said, most tornadoes are made visible due to the condensation of water vapor into visible clouds.
Most of what you see in a tornado is actually a cloud formed from the condensation of moisture when air that is drawn into the tornado experiences the sharp pressure reduction that accompanies it.
Are All Tornadoes Visible?
Unless a tornado has picked up debris and has condensation, it essentially is just wind rotating at high speed which can be incredibly difficult to see.
Heavy rain and thunderstorms can also cloak tornadoes making them difficult to make out in the darkness of a thunderstorm.
Tornadoes are often visible due to the presence of a condensation funnel which gives tornadoes their notorious cloud-colored column.
That said, not all tornadoes are visible and some can even be invisible. Tornadoes that cannot be seen are often much weaker and are newly formed.
They’ve not had the opportunity to pick up much debris yet and are either weak tornadoes such as EF1 or EF2 or they are starting to gain power.
As a tornado starts to move across the landscape it will start to pick up more dirt and debris which makes the tornado visible.
Some tornadoes do not produce a funnel-shaped cloud at all and therefore can be very difficult to see making these tornadoes highly dangerous.
What Makes A Tornado Visible?
Tornadoes are often visible due to the presence of a condensation funnel – a funnel-shaped cloud that forms due to the reduced pressure within the tornado’s vortex.
Dust and debris, as well as anything else that the tornado has picked up on its travels also make them much easier to spot.
The stronger the tornado the more it will pick up and therefore the more visible it will become, even at a greater distance.
Generally, the further away you are from a tornado the more difficult it will be to see it.
But if the tornado gets close enough you’ll certainly be able to see the condensation funnel as well as the swirling debris that has been picked up on its travels.
How Do Tornadoes Vanish?
At some point during the life of a tornado, cold downdraughts eventually begin to wrap around the tornado which cuts off the supply of warm air.
Once this happens the tornado typically begins to narrow and starts to lose power before the vortex dissipates.
For decades, storm observers have documented tornadoes dissipating when their parent circulations (mesocyclones) weaken after they become wrapped in outflow air.
Tornadoes can vanish just as quickly as they appear, and without updrafts of warm, humid air a tornado begins to quickly fade.
Can tornadoes be invisible? Yes, they certainly can. However, this is very rare as many tornadoes have a condensation funnel which gives the tornado that famous cloud-coloring.
Tornadoes that are invisible usually occur because they are newly formed and are yet to pick up much debris or dirt.
As a tornado begins to gain traction and move through the landscape it will begin picking up objects and debris which can give it a distinct dirt-brown color.
Debris is collected by the tornado usually at the base, but further up towards the mid and upper section the tornado can be clear, giving it an almost invisible appearance.
Hopefully, this post has been helpful and you now know why some tornadoes can be invisible.
Thanks for taking the time to read this post and feel free to stick around to learn more about tornadoes and other natural weather events that we discuss here.
Hey, I’m Sam – the founder of GustyPlanet. I’ve had a fascination with all things weather for as long as I can remember. I witnessed my first tornado at the age of 6, and since then became an avid storm chaser that is hooked on learning as much as I can about extreme weather. This blog was created to share my knowledge and to expand and delve deeper into the wonderful world of weather phenomena. I hope you enjoy your stay here and thanks for visiting.