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Differences between tornado and hurricane

Jan 20, 2022

The first big difference is the place where they start to be created. In the case of tornadoes, they always form on land or in coastal areas very close to land.

On the contrary, hurricanes will always form in the oceans and it is impossible for them to be created on land. Another notable difference between both phenomena must be observed in the speed of their winds.

The speed in tornadoes is much higher than in hurricanes, and the wind can reach 500 km/h in extreme cases. In the case of hurricanes, the wind speed rarely exceeds 250 km/h.

In terms of size, there are also big differences since a normal or average tornado usually has a diameter of about 400 or 500 meters. Hurricanes, however, tend to be much larger since their diameter can reach 1,500 kilometers.

In relation to the lifetime of one and the other there are also great differences:

Tornadoes usually last a short time and at most their life can last a few minutes. On the contrary, the life of the hurricane is much longer, lasting up to several weeks.

The last difference between the two refers to the subject of prediction. The tornado is much more difficult to forecast than the hurricane, which is easier to predict its path and place of formation.

What is a tornado?

A tornado is an air mass that forms with high angular velocity. The ends of the tornado are located between the Earth’s surface and a cumulonimbus cloud. It is a cyclonic atmospheric phenomenon with a large amount of energy, although they usually last a short time.

The tornadoes that form can come in a variety of sizes and shapes, and typically last from a few seconds to more than an hour. The best-known morphology of the tornado is that of a funnel cloud, whose narrowest end touches the ground and is usually surrounded by a cloud that drags all the dust and debris around it.

Tornadoes can reach speeds between 65 and 180 km/h and can measure up to 75 meters wide. Tornadoes are not stationary in the place where they form, but rather move throughout the territory. They normally travel up to several kilometers before disappearing.

The most extreme ones can have wind speeds that can spin at 450 km/h or more, measure up to 2 km wide and remain touching the ground for more than 100 km of travel.

How a tornado form?

Tornadoes are born from electrical storms and are usually accompanied by hail. For a tornado to form, conditions for changes in the direction and speed of a storm must occur, creating a horizontal rotating effect. When this effect occurs, a vertical cone is created through which the air rises, turning within the storm.

The meteorological phenomena that encourage the appearance of tornadoes tend to act more during the day than at night (especially at sunset) and in the spring and autumn times of the year.

This means that a tornado is more likely to form in spring and autumn and during the day, that is, they are more frequent at these times. However, tornadoes can occur at any time of day and on any day of the year.

Characteristics and consequences of a tornado

The tornado is really invisible, only when it drags the condensed water droplets from a humid air storm and the dust and debris on the ground, it takes on that gray color.

Tornadoes are classified as weak, strong, or violent storms. Violent tornadoes make up only two percent of all tornadoes, but they cause 70 percent of all deaths and can last an hour or more. Among the damages caused by a tornado we find:

  • People, cars and entire buildings thrown into the air
  • Serious injuries
  • Deaths caused by being struck by flying debris
  • Destruction in agriculture
  • Destroyed homes

Meteorologists don’t have as much facility to predict tornadoes as they do hurricanes. However, knowing the meteorological variables that determine the formation of a tornado, specialists can warn of the presence of a tornado with enough time to save lives. Today the alert warning time for a tornado is 13 minutes.

Tornadoes can also be identified by some signs of the sky such as a sudden very dark and greenish color change, a large hailstorm, and a powerful roar like that of a locomotive.

What is a hurricane?

Hurricanes are rated as the strongest and most violent storms on Earth. To call a hurricane there are different names such as typhoons or cyclones, depending on where they occur. The scientific term is tropical cycle.

Only tropical cyclones that form over the Atlantic Ocean and the eastern Pacific Ocean are called hurricanes.

How is a hurricane formed?

For a hurricane to form, there must be a large mass of warm and humid air (normally tropical air has these characteristics). This warm and humid air is used by the hurricane as fuel, hence they usually form near the Equator.

The air rises from the surface of the oceans, leaving the lowest area with less air. This creates a zone of low atmospheric pressure near the ocean, since there is less air per unit volume.

In the global circulation of air throughout the planet, air masses move from where there is more air to where there is less, that is, from high pressure areas to low pressure areas.

When the air around the area that has been left with a low pressure moves to fill that “hole”, it also heats up and rises. As the warm air continues to rise, the surrounding air rotates to take its place. When the air that is rising cools down, being moist it forms clouds.

As this cycle unfolds, the entire cloud and air system rotates and grows, fueled by heat from the ocean and water evaporating from the surface.

Particularities and characteristics of the hurricane

Depending on the hemisphere in which the hurricane forms, it will turn in one direction or another. If it forms in the northern hemisphere, the hurricane will spin counterclockwise. On the contrary, if they form in the southern hemisphere, they will rotate in a clockwise direction.

When the air continues to rotate continuously, an eye (called the eye of the hurricane) forms in the center, which is very calm. In the eye the pressures are very low and there is no wind or current of any kind.

Hurricanes weaken when they make landfall, as they can no longer feed and grow from the energy of the oceans. Although hurricanes fade as they make landfall, they are strong enough to cause destruction and death.

Hurricane Categories

Surely you have heard that “category 5 hurricane”. What are the categories of hurricanes really? It is a way of measuring the intensity and devastating power of hurricanes.

They are divided into five categories and are as follows:

Category 1

  • Winds between 118 and 153 kilometers per hour
  • Minimal damage, mainly to trees, vegetation, and mobile homes or trailers that are not properly secured.
  • Total or partial destruction of power lines or poorly installed signs. Tides of 1.32 to 1.65 meters above normal.
  • Minor damage to docks and berths.

Category 2

  • Winds between 154 and 177 kilometers per hour
  • Considerable damage to trees and vegetation. Extensive damage to mobile homes, billboards, and exposed power lines.
  • Partial destruction of roofs, doors and windows, but little damage to structures and buildings.
  • Tides of 1.98 to 2.68 meters above normal.
  • Highways and roads near things are flooded.
  • Considerable damage to docks and piers. Marinas suffer from flooding and smaller boats break moorings in open areas.
  • Evacuation of low-lying residents in coastal areas.

Category 3

  • Winds between 178 and 209 kilometers per hour
  • Extensive Damage: Large trees downed, as well as billboards and signs that are not solidly installed.
  • Damage to the roofs of buildings and also to doors and windows, as well as to the structures of small buildings. Mobile homes and caravans destroyed.
  • Tides of 2.97 to 3.96 meters above normal and floods in extensive areas of coastal areas, with extensive destruction of buildings that are near the coast.
  • Large structures near shorelines are severely damaged by pounding waves and floating debris.
  • Flat land 1.65 meters or less above sea level floods more than 13 kilometers inland.
  • Evacuation of all residents along the coastal areas.

Category 4

  • Winds between 210 and 250 kilometers per hour
  • Extreme damage: Trees and bushes are blown away, and signs and signs are uprooted or destroyed.
  • Extensive damage to roofs, doors and windows. Total collapse of roofs in small houses.
  • Most mobile homes are destroyed or seriously damaged. -Swells of 4.29 to 5.94 meters above normal.
  • Flat land 3.30 meters or less above sea level is flooded up to 10 kilometers inland.
  • Mass evacuation of all residents in an area of ​​about 500 meters from the coast, and also in lowlands, up to three kilometers inland.

Category 5

  • Winds of more than 250 kilometers per hour
  • Catastrophic damage: Trees and bushes are totally flattened and uprooted by the wind.
  • Significant damage to the roofs of buildings. Advertisements and signs are ripped off and blown away by the wind.
  • Total collapse of roofs and walls of small residences. Most mobile homes are destroyed or seriously damaged.
  • Tides of 4.29 to 5.94 meters above normal.

With this information you will be able to better understand the differences between the tornado and the hurricane as well as their characteristics. Due to climate change, these phenomena will be more and more frequent and more intense, so it is convenient to be well informed about it.


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