Difference Between Hurricane and Tornado

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Both hurricanes and tornadoes are weather events that share similarities in terms of the damage they can cause, such as strong winds and rain, resulting in evacuations, emergency warnings, and disorder. However, there are differences between them regarding their formation process and the specific type of destruction they bring about. The confusion might stem from the commonly used term “cyclone,” which specifically refers to a hurricane forming in the Pacific Ocean.

Based on suggestions, a cyclone is distinguished as a storm system with high pressure, while a hurricane is described as a storm system with low pressure. The term “tornado” often functions as a regional nickname rather than an official designation. Tornadoes can also be called twisters or funnel clouds. These distinct storms generally form ahead of a front, when specific storm clouds known as “super cells” increase in intensity. As the high-pressure and low-pressure systems come together, the winds circulate around each other.

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Tornadoes are often not seen until they have formed a measurable circulation of air, despite storms and supercells being visible on radar. They can develop rapidly, touch down briefly, and then return to the supercell. Alternatively, they can stay on the ground, creating winds exceeding 250 miles per hour and covering a wide area of land. In contrast, hurricanes are self-contained systems that originate from low pressure systems typically found in tropical regions.

The warm ocean water serves as an energy source for cloud formation. These clouds gradually gather into rain bands around the low pressure system’s center. Pushed deeper into the ocean by prevailing winds and the jet stream, a potential hurricane initially develops as a ‘wave’ and progresses to a ‘depression’ before further intensifying into a ‘storm’ when sustained winds reach speeds of 39 to 74 miles per hour. At this stage, meteorologists typically assign a specific name to the system, following alphabetical order. The first named tropical storm or hurricane begins with A, the second with B, and so on.

When the sustained winds reach 75 miles per hour, a storm becomes a hurricane. Unlike tornados, hurricanes can be detected early and their formation measured accurately throughout their existence. Tornados, while they can produce stronger winds than hurricanes, do not last as long. The damage caused by an average tornado is confined to the specific path of the funnel cloud during the brief time it made contact with the ground. The accompanying storm may bring about further damage through lightning strikes or heavy rain, but it is primarily the tornado itself that poses the greatest challenge.

Hurricanes are characterized by strong winds and heavy rains, but the lasting impact is typically caused by the floods that follow. These floods occur as hurricanes push ocean water forward, creating high waves called storm surges. When combined with high tides, these surges can overpower coastal regions, resulting in extensive power outages and flooding. In contrast, tornadoes do not produce storm surges, though victims may still experience issues such as large hail. Tornadoes are evaluated on the Fujita scale, which measures destructive power based on assessments made after the storm.

The scale for tornadoes spans from an F-0 storm, causing minimal to negligible damage, to an F-5 storm that can destroy all structures in its path. Most tornadoes fall within the F-1 to F-3 range; however, these assessments are typically done after the event. Evaluating a tornado’s strength while it is happening can be extremely challenging. In contrast, hurricanes are categorized based on their intensity. Once the wind speed exceeds 75 miles per hour, the hurricane is designated as a Category 1 storm. The highest category, 5, usually occurs when the hurricane is over open water.

When a hurricane reaches land, it loses its main source of energy – warm ocean water – which leads to its weakening. The length of time a hurricane lasts can differ based on its size and stability, lasting for multiple days or even weeks. In contrast, tornadoes usually only last for a few hours. Unlike hurricanes, tornadoes form over land and do not require water for their power. Their creation depends on the instability caused by colliding fronts that enable air circulation. Once the storm clouds lose their strength, the likelihood of regeneration diminishes greatly.

While tornadoes can form within minutes and receive safety warnings only after they occur, hurricanes rely on evaporating water vapor for fuel and can regain strength once back over water. They can last as long as the low pressure center remains strong and is not fragmented by a larger system.

Hurricanes can be predicted with several days’ advance notice, providing residents in their path with a warning. They can receive specific information about storm strength and direction until the hurricane makes landfall. In contrast, accurately predicting tornadoes is more challenging since radar signatures only offer a general idea of their trajectory, and detailed information often becomes available after the tornado has already formed.

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Difference Between Hurricane and Tornado. (2017, Feb 21). Retrieved from


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