The tornado outbreak ravaging the Midwest and South demonstrates the severe and capricious damage potential of twisters, says half of a father-and-son team that studies tornado dynamics at West Virginia University.

What makes a tornado unique is the degree to which it can focus some of the enormous energy of a large thunderstorm into a relatively small volume near the ground where it can do the most damage, said David Lewellen, research associate professor in WVU ’s College of Engineering and Mineral Resources.

The spate of tornadoes in the nation’s heartland has killed more than 40 people, injured hundreds more and left a swath of destruction in 10 states since Sunday. Forecasters are predicting a possibility of more tornado-spawning storms Friday night in many areas already hit hard, including central and eastern Oklahoma and Kansas.

Lewellen and his father, Steve, a research professor at WVU , use computer programs to simulate tornadoes in an effort to understand how twisters interact with the Earth’s surface and grow in intensity.

Their research is leading to a better understanding of tornado intensification and behavior, helping to explain the variety of tornadoes observed and why similarly intense thunderstorms produce tornadoes of diverse strengths, the younger Lewellen said.

The National Science Foundation supports their work.

The Lewellens are available to talk to the media about this subject. David Lewellen can be reached at 304-293-3111, ext. 2332. William Lewellen’s phone number is 304-293-4111, ext. 2371.