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CIV300 - Terrestrial Energy Systems

Self-Reflection Assignment
Tim Meng Kin, Chong 999704208
10thApril, 2017

One of the most interesting topics that I have learned from this course is how Earths
Terrestrial Energy systems like hurricane and tornados differ. I have always been a weather
geek in high school and therefore prior to taking this course, during summer vacations, I always
joined meteorological societies that organize trips along the Tornado Alley in the United States
of America to chase tornados and hurricanes. I am always in awe of the awesome power that
tornadoes and hurricanes unleash, however I never quite understand their mechanisms.

My original understanding of tornadoes and hurricanes were rudimentary and


incomplete. During highschool, I only understood that tornado form over land and form within
storms and hurricanes form over water in the tropical oceans due to atmospheric instability
where warm and wet air rises, condenses to form towering cumulonimbus clouds. I was also
confused by the apparent similarity between them, that is the rotational or cyclonic aspect of
these two weather phenomenons. The misconception probably originated from the simplistic
observations that I made during my trip along the Alley of Tornado, because of my complete
lack of knowledge about coriolis force at the time and the fact that the force could not be
observed or experienced directly, I thought that hurricanes were just a bigger and slower
rotational body of tornado.

After taking this course, contrary to what I have believed before, I have learnt that these
weather phenomenons are actually more different than similar. The formation of tornadoes are
in fact fundamentally different from hurricanes. While my original understanding is true that
tornadoes originate from thunderstorm where there is high atmospheric instability. The chance
of tornado formation only commences when there is wind shear, meaning that winds at two
different altitudes blow at two different speeds, create a horizontal rotating column of air. If this
column happened to be in a supercell updraft, it would then be tightened, speeded up and
formed funnel cloud that would eventually touch down to create a tornado (see figure 1).
Therefore, coriolis force has little to do with the formation of tornado. On the contrary, although
my original understanding is true that hurricanes originate from atmospheric instability like that
of tornado, yet unlike tornado, its formation has a lot to do with coriolis force; the coriolis force is
an apparent force that deflects moving objects to the right in the northern hemisphere and vice
versa in southern hemisphere due to the rotation of the earth. As the atmosphere becomes
unstable, a low pressure forms, wind begins to flow and rotate toward the center of it due to
coriolis force.

Figure 1: Formation of funnel cloud (Center for Science Education, 2014)


Reference:
Center for Science Education (2014) How do Tornadoes form? Retrieved (2017) from:
http://www.eo.ucar.edu/kids/dangerwx/tornado3.htm