Hurricane vs Tornado

Hurricane vs Tornado Comparison

Everybody know the devastation that these two powerful storms can cause, but what are the differences between hurricanes and tornadoes? How are they unique, and in what ways are they similar? In today’s hurricane vs tornado comparison article, we’ll explore the similarities and differences between these meteorological monsters.

What is the Difference Between a Hurricane and a Tornado?

When comparing a hurricane vs tornado, it’s helpful to focus on six factors. These can be used to explain the difference between hurricanes and tornadoes. They include:

  1. Where they form
  2. How big they are
  3. Duration of each storm
  4. How strong the winds are
  5. Number of occurrences per year
  6. Number of days for advanced warning

Let’s have a look at those 6 factors in greater detail in the side-by-side comparison chart below.

Hurricane vs Tornado Comparison Chart

FormationOver waterOver land
SizeSeveral hundred miles wideNo more than 0.25 miles
DurationUp to 3 weeksNo more than 1 hour
Wind Speed
Frequency/Year~ 10 in the North Atlantic Ocean800-1,000 (USA)
WarningSeveral days15-30 minutes

1. Where They Form

Hurricanes begin over warm water in the Atlantic and Pacific Ocean and develop best when far from the polar and subtropical jet stream.

Polar and Subtropical Jet Streams
Polar and Subtropical Jet Streams

Tornadoes form over land and form within storms that are often very close to the jet stream.

2. Size of Each Storm

Hurricanes are extremely large storms that can reach up to several hundred miles in width.

Hurricane Isabel (2003) from the ISS
Hurricane Isabel (2003) as seen from the ISS

Compared to this, tornadoes are rather tiny. They are usually no more than 0.25 miles wide.

A tornado near Anadarko, Oklahoma
A tornado near Anadarko, Oklahoma.

3. How Long Each Type of Storm Lasts

With up to 3 weeks, hurricanes can last much longer than tornadoes. The latter one usually lasts no more than one hour.

4. Tornado vs Hurricane: Wind Speeds

Hurricanes come with winds of usually less than 180mph. Their strength is measured on the Saffir-Simpson scale (1-5).

The aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in Gulfport, Mississippi.
The aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in Gulfport, Mississippi.

Tornadoes, such as the Bridge Creek–Moore Tornado, can reach wind speeds of over 300mph. A tornado’s strength is indicated on the Fujita Scale (F1-F5).

Damage in Oklahoma City after the Bridge-Creek Moore Tornado 1999.
Damage in Oklahoma City after the Bridge-Creek Moore Tornado 1999.

5. Frequency of Tornadoes vs Hurricanes

An average of 10-15 hurricanes can be witnessed in the North Atlantic Ocean and Eastern Pacific Ocean per year. In comparison, tornadoes occur much more frequently. Between 800-1,000 can occur in one year in the United States alone, not counting the storms in Northern South America, South Mexico, Northern Australia, Southern Asia and Africa. All in all, several thousand tornadoes occur per year worldwide.

6. Number of Days for Advanced Warning

Authorities can issue hurricane warnings several days before the actual event occurs.

A Doppler on Wheels unit observing a tornado near Attica, Kansas.
A Doppler on Wheels unit observing a tornado near Attica, Kansas.

Sadly, tornadoes are much more unpredictable in nature and forecasters usually have no more than 15-30 minutes of time to warn a population of the inherent catastrophe.

Tornado Destruction
Destruction after a tornado

Similarities Between Hurricanes and Tornadoes

There must be a reason for the confusion about the use of the terms that describe these distinct weather phenomenons. So, let’s ask the following: How are hurricanes and tornadoes similar?

Tornado vs Hurricane: Similarities

  1. Both hurricanes and tornadoes are destructive storms.
  2. Both storms are caused by instability in atmospheric conditions.
  3. Hurricanes and tornadoes rotate clockwise in the southern hemisphere and counter-clockwise in the northern hemisphere.

That’s it. Other than being storms caused by atmospheric conditions that leave trail of destruction behind them, hurricanes and tornadoes don’t have much in common. To better understand the two concepts, let’s focus on their differences instead.

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