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Hurricanes Typhoons and Cyclones
Tornadoes

What is the difference between a hurricane and a tornado?

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November 22, 2017 4:32PM

Hurricanes and tornadoes are both damaging windstorms, but they are very different phenomena. One is a large weather system and the other is an isolated weather event. A hurricane is a huge airmass that can be more than 1000 miles across, while a tornado is seldom more than 1 mile across, and often much less.

Hurricanes

A hurricane (also known as a cyclone or typhoon) is a very large,swirling storm with strong winds and heavy rains. It consists of an area of closed, circular fluid motion rotating in the same direction as the Earth. This is usually characterized by inward spiraling winds that rotate counter-clockwise in the Northern Hemisphere and clockwise in the Southern Hemisphere. These cyclonic circulations of wind and clouds can sometimes, but not always, lead to a storm characterized by a low pressure center and numerous thunderstorms that produce strong winds and flooding rain. They can only form over warm water with minimal wind shear, but often make landfall at some point as they move across the ocean. While much of the damage caused by hurricanes is from high winds, equally dangerous is its storm surge, which can flood entire cities, killing large numbers of people.

Hurricanes:

  • Are hundreds of miles wide.
  • Form only over warm ocean water.
  • Last for days and sometimes well over a week.
  • Produce rain and flooding in addition to powerful winds.
  • Are independent, self-sustaining storm systems.
  • Have winds ranging from 74 to about 200 mph

Tornadoes

A tornado is a swirling column of wind that moves across the ground in a relatively narrow path. It consists of a violent, dangerous, rotating column of air which extends from a cloud to the ground. The most intense of all atmospheric phenomena, tornadoes come in many shapes and sizes but are typically in the form of a visible condensation funnel, whose narrow end touches the earth and is often encircled by a cloud of debris and dust. They can demolish entire neighborhoods in a matter of a few seconds to a few minutes.

Tornadoes form from thunderstorms called supercells and reach toward the ground as they develop. Most tornadoes last a few minutes and never more than a few hours. Some last just a few seconds. Most tornado deaths are from flying debris.

Tornadoes:

  • Are rarely over a mile wide
  • Usually form over land
  • Usually last minutes, rarely a few hours
  • Cause damage via wind and debris
  • Are dependent on a large storm to develop and keep going
  • Have winds ranging from 65 to about 300 mph
  • Often have a condensation funnel.

In summary:

  1. Hurricanes form over warm ocean water as tropical depressions, and weaken rapidly over land. Tornadoes normally form over land from mesocyclones.
  2. Hurricanes are hundreds of miles wide while tornadoes are typically a few dozen yards wide, getting up to two-and-a-half miles wide at most.
  3. A hurricane usually lasts a few days while a tornado cannot last more than a few hours, and some last just a few seconds.
  4. Hurricanes can produce large waves and storm surge, tornadoes, waterspouts and flooding rains. A tornado can be accompanied by these but does not directly cause them.
  5. The strongest tornadoes have faster winds than the strongest hurricanes.