Natural disasters

Can a tornado above the sea become as large as in 'Take Shelter'?

The protagonist of the 'Take Shelter' movie from 2011 has visions of a very powerful tornado. In the final scene he sees his nightmare approaching - by sea. Can this really happen?

The sea surface does not become as warm as the land, and therefore whirlwinds above the sea become less powerful.

© Bogachyova Arina // Shutterstock

The tornado that is teasing the main character is one of the most powerful, an F4 or F5 on the so-called Scale of Fujita, with which tornadoes are classified based on the damage they cause.

A whirlwind above water is not actually called a tornado, but a whirlwind.

In the film Take Shelter, powerful whirlwinds come from the sea. But in reality the heaviest tornadoes arise above land.

© ANADOLU AGENCY / GETTY IMAGES

Tornadoes are more powerful than water boxes

Water bodies are usually a lot weaker than tornadoes, because the temperature difference between the water surface and the higher atmosphere is smaller than on earth - the sea surface never gets as warm as the land.

Water bodies that are heavier than category F2 are therefore a rarity.

Close to reality

The whirlwinds coming from the sea in the final scene of the film are no more powerful than they actually occur.

In the film, however, the impression is strongly created that the waterspout will become even more powerful, and that is not realistic.

The Scale of Fujita classifies tornadoes based on their destructive power. Each category has a hypothetical wind speed.

F0: 65-115 km / h: Branches break, roof damage.

F1: 118-180 km / h: Trees break down.

F2: 184-252 km / h: Roofs blow off.

F3: 255-331 km / h: Cars go up in the air.

F4: 335-417 km / h: Houses collapse.

F5: 421-511 km / h: The entire infrastructure collapses.

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