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This wild-looking video depicts a simulated thunderstorm spawning a tornado. The visualization illustrates how vorticity — which describes the spin of an air mass — aligns with the winds feeding into the storm to enhance storm rotation.

The visualization shows rotation in the updraft — the hallmark characteristic of a supercell, or rotating thunderstorm. In a real storm, you can see the clouds billowing upward and corkscrew striations in the rotating cloud, but the relationship between the wind and rotation isn't exactly clear. Plots like this help to illuminate this relationship, giving a better sense of how the vorticity in the environment is tilted, stretched and intensified in the updraft to make the storm rotate.

The animation reveals a vortex ring that develops as the strong updraft punches into the stable stratosphere and the air subsequently curls downward.

The visualization was created using VisIt, software developed at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, and was computed on the Longhorn system at the Texas Advanced Computing Center, based at The University of Texas at Austin. The original simulation was performed on the Kraken supercomputer at the National Institute for Computational Science. Both Longhorn and Kraken are National Science Foundation-funded systems.

Editor's Note: Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation. See the Research in Action archive.