What is it like in the eye of a tornado?

Will and Roy's Big Adventures: Inside the Tornado

An F4 tornado can reduce a house to rubble in an instant.
An F4 tornado can reduce a house to rubble in an instant.
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As far as we can tell, there are only two people on record that claim to have been in the center of a tornado and lived. Not surprisingly, both of them were farmers. The first man was Will Keller, from Greensburg, Kan.

On June 22, 1928, Mr. Keller was with his family, checking out the damage to his wheat crop from a hailstorm that had just passed. He spotted an umbrella-shaped cloud in the near distance and had a feeling that a tornado might develop. Before he knew it, there were three funnel clouds heading his way in a hurry. Keller rushed his family to their storm cellar and, before climbing in himself, decided to take another look. He'd seen many tornadoes over the years, so he wasn't afraid, but remained cautious. Kellar said he was transfixed by the twister, and he held his position until it was directly overhead.

Once inside the swirling cloud, Keller said that everything was "as still as death." He reported smelling a strong gassy smell and had trouble breathing. When he looked up, he saw the circular opening directly overhead, and estimated it to be roughly 50 to 100 feet in diameter and about a half a mile high. The rotating cloud walls were made clearly visible by constant bursts of lightning that "zigzagged from side to side." He also noticed a lot of smaller tornadoes forming and breaking free, making a loud hissing noise. The tornado then passed, skipping over his house and smashing the home of his neighbor.

The second account from Roy Hall does nothing to disprove Keller's story. Hall was a soybean farmer in McKinnet, Texas. One spring afternoon in 1951, Hall and his family were outside when a nasty storm approached. He sent his wife and kids inside to hide under a bed but stayed to watch the coming storm. He claims to have seen green sheets of rain just before the tornado formed. After baseball-sized hail started coming down, he went inside. He then heard a loud rumbling followed by complete silence. The walls began to shake, and to his surprise, his roof was ripped away and thrown into the woods nearby. At this point, he looked up to find the tornado directly overhead. He described the inside as a smooth wall of clouds, with smaller twisters swirling around the inside before breaking free. Once again, non-stop lightning created a bluish light, enabling him to see everything clearly. And then, just like that, the tornado passed and the sky turned sunny. The same storm killed 100 Texans, but Hall and his family survived.

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  • American Meteorological Society, 2008. http://amsglossary.allenpress.com/glossary/search?id=tornado1
  • Allen, Jean. "Tornadoes." Capstone Press, 2001.
  • Justice, Alonzo A. "Seeing the Inside of a Tornado." noaa.gov, 2008. http://www.history.noaa.gov/stories_tales/inside_tornado.html
  • "Tornadoes: Nature's Most Violent Storms." noaa.gov, 2008. http://www.nssl.noaa.gov/edu/safety/tornadoguide.html