What is a tornado? What to know about this devastating weather

Born from thunderstormstornadoes can cause immense devastation as they rip apart homes and toss cars like toys.

Tornadoes can happen any time of the year if conditions are right, but there are distinct seasons for twisters in different parts of the county, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Storm Prediction Center.

"There is a general northward shift in "tornado season" in the U.S. from late winter through midsummer," the SPC says. "The peak period for tornadoes in the Southern Plains, for example, is during May into early June. On the Gulf Coast, it is earlier during the spring; in the Northern Plains and upper Midwest, it is June or July."

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So what is a tornado?

A tornado is a column of “rapidly rotating air that comes from a powerful, towering thunderstorm” also known as a supercell, said Janice Dean, Fox News’ senior meteorologist.

This Oct. 20, 2019 image made from video by Twitter user @AthenaRising a the tornado in Rockwall, Texas.

This Oct. 20, 2019 image made from video by Twitter user @AthenaRising a the tornado in Rockwall, Texas. (@AthenaRising via AP)

The column of air typically forms from the supercell, stretching down and eventually reaching the ground below.

When this happens, the column takes the shape of a funnel — also known as a funnel cloud, according to the Ready Campaign, a national public service campaign that helps Americans respond to natural and man-made disasters, among other things.

When they do form, tornadoes are also unpredictable.

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While tornadoes are "spawned by strong thunderstorms, not all strong thunderstorms end up predicting tornadoes," Dean said.

Weather forecasters can't predict which storms will produce tornadoes with 100 percent certainty, but they "can forecast where supercell thunderstorms are likely to develop," Dean explained.

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On average, tornadoes kill about 60 people per year, mostly from flying or falling debris. The actual number can vary from single digits to hundreds, depending on both "weather and society" at the time, according to the SPC.

Fox News' Madeline Farber contributed to this report.