It’s long been thought that hills, valleys, and bodies of water stop can stop tornadoes from forming or crossing and stop them in their tracks.
Tornadoes are violently rotating columns of air that can form in a matter of minutes and wreak havoc on local wildlife and communities.
Today, we’re going to take a closer look at where exactly tornadoes form and more specifically answer: Can tornadoes form on hills?
Yes, although unlikely, tornadoes can form on hills. Tornadoes are able to form just about anywhere providing that conditions are right.
Can Tornadoes Really Form On Hills?
Whilst it is rare for tornadoes to form on hills, it is certainly possible and does happen when conditions allow for it.
Tornadoes need a specific mix of ingredients to form. This includes warm, humid air near the ground, cold air higher up as well as winds that overlap in different directions.
There are very few places on Earth that check all of these boxes, and none compare to the great plane of the United States, also known as Tornado Alley.
This area is dry, flat, and has the perfect air mixture to create tornadoes during “tornado season”.
The flat land is perfect and provides no resistance to the high wind speed, allowing the tornado to gain momentum and speed incredibly quickly.
Whilst hills do offer resistance from wind, this makes it more unlikely that tornadoes to form, but not impossible.
Why Can Tornadoes Form On Hills?
Tornadoes are not bound by hills or any other natural or even man-made structure. So long as conditions are favorable, a tornado can form – hill or no hill.
It’s important to note that wind can be incredibly strong on top of mountain ranges and hills, and it often blows in different directions which can help to whip up a tornado.
The myth that tornadoes can not form on hills or cross them is, well… a myth.
Tornadoes are incredibly powerful forces of nature that aren’t picky about where they like to spawn so long as all the ingredients are together.
They have formed on top of mountains, inside valleys, on rivers, and in cities.
The reason many people believe tornadoes don’t form on hills is likely that the air is much more stable on hills, and therefore less likely to cause thunderstorms.
Add in the fact that it’s much harder to identify a tornado on top of a mountain and that fewer people will witness it as it’s more remote, and you’ve got everything you need to a myth.
Which Tornadoes Have Formed On Hills?
Tornadoes can and do hit mountain ranges and hills all of the time, only they are not regularly seen or reported as fewer people live in these regions.
In July 1987, the big Teton-Yellowstone tornado traveled more than 10,000 feet (3,048 meters) above sea level up the Grand Teton mountain range and crossed the Continental Divide.
Why Are Tornadoes Less Common On Hills?
The reason why tornadoes are less common on hills and mountain ranges and hills is really quite simple.
Higher elevations typically have cooler, more stable air. Tornadoes love warm, humid, and unstable air which can provide energy for a powerful thunderstorm that is capable of producing a tornado.
When we’re talking about elevation and hills, the higher you go the colder it gets, this is due to environmental lapse rates or the change in temperature with height.
This means that the higher up you go, the less likely conditions are going to be right for a large thunderstorm or tornado to form.
For every thousand feet in elevation, there is a 3°F drop in temperature. Meaning that the higher and colder elevation landscapes are much more stable and unlikely to produce tornadoes.
Can Tornadoes Travel Over Hills?
Whilst many people still believe tornadoes are unable to travel up or down hills, this is very much a myth.
In fact, tornadoes can travel up and down hillsides quite easily providing conditions allow, so sadly hills are unable to protect you from a tornado.
The infamous Tri-State tornado is a great example. This tornado began in an area of Missouri called Ellington where some of the tallest hills are.
Tornadoes are not restricted by the landscape that is beneath them, so it doesn’t make much of a difference whether it’s a hill, valley, or lake, a tornado can still travel across it.
Where Is A Tornado Most Likely To Form?
Most tornadoes are found in the Great Plains of the central United States.
This is because the warm air is pushed up from the Gulf of Mexico across this area which meets with the cooler air pushing east from Canada.
This area is known as tornado alley and is an ideal environment for large thunderstorms to form which are capable of forming tornadoes.
There will be tornadoes where there is a high amount of instability, low-level high dewpoints as well as low-level wind shear and lifting mechanisms.
Tornadoes will happen anywhere in the world where these happen, which just so happens to be in the central United States.
However, many other countries such as Australia, Germany, the Czech Republic, Europe, Russia, and more all experience tornadoes.
Can tornadoes form on hills? Yes, they certainly can. Tornadoes will form wherever conditions are right, whether that be on flat land up on a mountainside.
Tornadoes will form wherever warm humid air collides with cold dry air, no matter if it’s on a hill or on flatland.
Many of the tornadoes that happen in the US are formed in tornado alley, an area of the central USA that has the perfect conditions for large thunderstorms that can spawn tornadoes.
Hopefully, you’ve enjoyed this post today and have learned something new about why tornadoes can spawn on top of hills.
Thanks for taking the time to read this post and feel free to share it with a friend that may find it of value.
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.