Why tropical systems from the Gulf of Mexico typically produce more tornadoes

Severe Weather

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCBD) – As Tropical Storm Elsa makes its way through the east coast, several states are under a tornado watch sparked by the storm’s high winds and heavy rotation.

With winds coming from all different directions, tropical storms can produce “spin-ups,” resulting in tornadoes.

As tropical systems move over land, the likelihood of tornadoes increases, in part due to the friction created between lower-level winds and obstacles such as buildings and trees. The low-level winds slow down, but higher-level winds continue moving at high speeds, creating what is known as vertical shear.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), vertical shear is one of the main factors in producing tornadic activity.

Tropical systems that originate from the Gulf of Mexico travel over more land than those that originate in the Atlantic and ‘graze’ the coast. Although “almost all tropical cyclones making landfall in the United States spawn at least one tornado,” NOAA confirms that “Gulf coast landfalling [tropical systems] are more likely to produce tornadoes.”

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