Difference Between Hurricane vs. Tornado

Main Difference

The main difference between hurricane and tornado is that the hurricane is a large-scale circulation with horizontal dimensions from 60 to over 1000 miles in diameter and tornado is a small-scale circulation with a horizontal dimension of 1 to 1.5 miles in diameter.

Hurricane vs. Tornado

Hurricanes and Tornadoes are extremely strong horizontal winds. A hurricane is a type of tropical cyclone with sustained winds. These winds are accompanied by rain, thunder, and lightning and exceed 74 mph. A tornado is a whirling column of air ranging in width from a few yards to more than a mile. It is accompanied by a funnel-shaped downward extension of a cumulonimbus cloud that usually whirls at destructively high speeds. Hurricanes are usually found near tropical zone, over warm waters in the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. Tornadoes are found in all continents except Antarctica. A large number of tornadoes have been seen in the United States. The obvious difference between hurricanes and tornadoes is that they have drastically different scales. They have different impacts on the environment. They form under different circumstances. Hurricane is a large-scale circulation with horizontal dimensions from 60 to over 1000 miles in diameter. It forms at low latitudes, generally between 5 and 20 degrees. It is never right at the equator. Tornado is a “small-scale circulation.”It is the largest observed horizontal dimension in the most severe cases being on the order of 1 to 1.5 miles. Hurricane is generated in regions of near-zero horizontal temperature gradient. It is an oceanic phenomenon. It loses momentum after landfall because the required moisture is not available on the land. Tornado is produced in regions of the large temperature gradient. Therefore it typically occurs over land (where the heat of the sun can produce the required temperature gradient).

Comparison Chart

HurricaneTornado
Large-scale circulation with horizontal dimensions from 60 to over 1000 miles in diameterSmall-scale circulation with a horizontal dimension of 1 to 1.5 miles in diameter
Duration
Up to three weeksNot more than an hours
Width
150km+1/2 km
Occur
In the Eastern Pacific Ocean, North Atlantic Ocean onlyOn all continents except Antarctica
Development
Over warm seasOverland and sea

What is Hurricane?

A hurricane (tropical cyclone) is a very large, destructive storm. It comprises winds that are accompanied by rain, thunder, and lightning. These winds exceed 74 miles per hour. Hurricanes generally begin over water. They are usually found near tropical zone, over warm waters in the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. Hurricane is a large-scale circulation with horizontal dimensions from 60 to over 1000 miles in diameter. It forms at low latitudes, generally between 5 and 20 degrees. It is never right at the equator. Hurricane is generated in regions of near-zero horizontal temperature gradient. It is an oceanic phenomenon. It loses momentum after landfall because the required moisture is not available on the land. The strength of a hurricane is measured from 1 to 5 on a scale. The scale to measure a hurricane is called the Saffir-Simpson scale. Hurricane is a destructive storm that rotates clockwise in the southern hemisphere and anticlockwise in the northern hemisphere. Hurricanes occur less frequently than tornadoes (10-15 per year). They can last several days. A hurricane starts as a wave of low-pressure air in the warm and moisture-rich atmosphere over the tropical ocean. This gathering storm draws in the warm air and water vapor as it rises and grows. It forms thunderclouds and starts to rotate in response to Earth’s rotation.

Categories of Hurricane

  • Category 1 (minimal damage with wind speeds of 74-95 miles per hour)
  • Category 2 (moderate damage with wind speeds varying from 96-110 mph)
  • Category 3 (extensive damage, with wind speeds of 111-130 mph)
  • Category 4 (extreme damage with wind speeds of 131-155 mph)
  • Category 5 (damage with wind speeds of over 155 mph)

What is a Tornado?

A tornado is a highly rotating column of air which can have spinning winds up to 360mph. It can destroy everything in its path. It is in contact with both the ground and the cumulonimbus cloud. The base of a tornado that touches the earth is surrounded by dust and debris. Tornado is colorless or transparent, but this dust and debris give the tornado its color. A tornado can have wind speeds between 40mph and 360mph depending on its size. Tornadoes mainly develop from a class of thunderstorms that is known as supercells. Supercells contain mesocyclones that are an area of organized rotation. This area is usually 2–10 km up in the atmosphere. The mesocyclone begins to start taking in cool air from the downdraft region of the storm as it lowers to the base of the cloud. The cool air in the downdraft and the warm air in the updraft form a wall of rotating air. It forms the beginnings of a tornado. A tornado dissipates or dies when the downdraft encases it and cuts off the warm air supply to the core. It causes the vortex to weaken and eventually die. It is hard foreseeing that when a tornado will land. Another mystery is how the tornadoes die out.

Types of Tornado

  • Landspout (that occur on land)
  • Waterspout (that occur on water)
  • Multiple Vortexes (that contains multiple vortices spinning inside the main vortex)

Key Differences

  1. The main hurricane and tornado are that the hurricane is a large-scale circulation with horizontal dimensions from 60 to over 1000 miles in diameter whereas a tornado is a small-scale circulation with a horizontal dimension of 1 to 1.5 miles in diameter.
  2. Hurricane is generated in regions of near-zero horizontal temperature gradient; on the other hand, the tornado is produced in regions of the large temperature gradient.
  3. The lifespan of a hurricane (tropical cyclone) is in days conversely the lifespan of a tornado is only a few minutes or maximum an hour.
  4. A hurricane spans hundreds of kilometers and comprises several convective tornadoes/storms while the diameter of a tornado is hundreds of meters powered by one convective storm.

Conclusion

Hurricane and tornado are the naturally occurring windstorms. Both appear to be similar in their general structure but are different in many ways.

Author:

Aimie Carlson

Aimie Carlson is an English language enthusiast who loves writing and has a master degree in English literature. Follow her on Twitter at @AimieCarlson

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