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Tornadoes VS Hurricanes

31 Oct 2017, 7:06 pm

How are hurricanes different than tornadoes?

This was a question I answered for an elementary school student recently to help out on a school assignment.  
My response in somewhat simplified terms:

Tornadoes and hurricanes may be similar in that they both have extreme winds circulating around a their center that can cause damage. That’s just about where the similarities end.

Tornadoes, are defined by the National Weather Service as:
“A violently rotating column of air, usually pendant to a cumulonimbus, with circulation reaching the ground. It nearly always starts as a funnel cloud and may be accompanied by a loud roaring noise. On a local scale, it is the most destructive of all atmospheric phenomena.”  Winds in the strongest tornadoes can top 300 mph.

Hurricanes are powerful storms that develop in a circular pattern over warm ocean waters. Hurricane winds are 74 mph or faster with category 5 hurricanes producing winds of 157 mph or higher. This year we witnessed hurricane Irma which is one of the strongest hurricanes on record produce winds of 185 mph.

One huge difference between tornadoes and hurricanes is size. Tornadoes are much smaller in scale with damage paths in extreme cases being as wide as 1 to 1.5 miles wide. The widest tornado ever recorded was 2.5 miles wide.  Tornadoes are produced by individual thunderstorms which are much smaller than an entire hurricane. Thunderstorms that produce tornadoes are usually on the scale of around 10 miles or so wide.  Hurricanes, on the other hand, are measured in hundreds of miles and are made up of numerous thunderstorms.  Tornadoes cannot produce hurricanes, but land falling hurricanes often produce tornadoes from the thunderstorms they are composed of.

Tornadoes don’t last as long as hurricanes can.  Hurricanes generally will last for days or weeks, while tornadoes typically last from a few seconds to over an hour. Tornadoes also don’t travel as far as most hurricanes. Tornadoes generally will travel short distances to occasionally many miles. The most extreme tornado in recorded history was the Tri-State Tornado, which spread through parts of Missouri, Illinois, and Indiana on March 18, 1925. It holds records for longest path length at 219 miles and for longest duration at about 3½ hours.  Hurricanes can travel hundreds or even thousands of miles.  In 1966 hurricane Faith traveled for 6,850 miles, making it the longest track of an Atlantic hurricane on record.

There are many more tornadoes than there are hurricanes every year. On average we see about 1,000 tornadoes in the United States every year, while an average of six Atlantic Basin hurricanes form each year. Of those six annual hurricanes, about 26 percent make landfall in the United States.

Tornadoes can be very intense but impact a much smaller area than hurricanes can. Hurricanes also bring impacts like flooding rain, coastal flooding from storm surge and can affect an area for a longer time causing more damage.

Meteorologist Mike Morrison

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