We just recently were subject to a Tornado Watch in the Lowcountry. Luckily, a tornado never touched down. But if it did, would you have been fully prepared to weather the storm in the safest way possible? While tornados are different from hurricanes, they can be just as dangerous, if not more. It’s important that we are able to differentiate each type of storm so that when they approach, we can be as prepared as possible. Read on for explanations on tornados, hurricanes, and even waterspouts, to see how you can best keep yourself and your family safe during the storms.
According to the National Weather Service, a tornado is a violently rotating column of air touching the ground, usually attached to the base of a thunderstorm, with winds of up to 300 MPH. Because tornados form so quickly from thunderstorms, they are known as nature’s most violent storms and can cause fatalities and devastate neighborhoods in seconds.
According to the National Hurricane Center, a hurricane is a tropical cyclone in which the maximum sustained surface wind is at least 74 MPH. The term “hurricane’ is used for Northern Hemisphere tropical cyclones east of the International Dateline to the Greenwich Meridian, while the term “typhoon” is used for Pacific tropical cyclones north of the Equator west of the International Dateline.
According to the National Ocean Service, waterspouts can fall into two categories: fair-weather waterspouts and tornadic waterspouts.
A fair-weather waterspout usually forms along the dark flat base of a line of developing cumulus clouds. These waterspouts are usually not associated with thunderstorms and will work their way upward rather than toward land. Fair-weather waterspouts form in light wind conditions so they normally move very little.
A tornadic waterspout is a tornado that forms over the water or moves from land to over water. These have the same basic characteristics as land tornados and are associated with severe thunderstorms. Tornadic waterspouts are accompanied by high winds and seas, large hail, and frequent dangerous lightning.
What makes these three storms different?
- Hurricanes are formed over tropical waters, while tornados are usually formed over land. Except in the case of waterspouts.
- If waterspouts move from over water to the shore, the National Weather Service issues a tornado warning.
- Tornados are more common than hurricanes, with up to 1000 occurring in the U.S. each year.
- Hurricanes can vary in wind speed according to their category, but as a whole are usually less than 180 MPH. Tornados, on the other hand, can have winds up to 300 MPH.
- Tornados only last around an hour, while hurricanes can last for weeks.
- Hurricanes are usually several hundred miles wide, while tornados only get to about 1/4 of a mile wide.