Difference between Hurricane and Tornado

Published on May 14, 2016

Hurricanes and tornados may both be scary, and they have the same general structure, but they are two different storm systems. Frightening as they are, these storms have the potential to cause massive destruction and in different ways. Knowing their differences may not alleviate a ‘life or death situation’, but it could sure help you know what to prepare for, hoping that time won’t come.



Hurricane vs Tornado
Hurricane Isabel (2003) as seen from the ISS (International Space Station)

A hurricane (also known as a typhoon in other continents), or simply referred to as a tropical cyclone, is a heavy storm that is characterized by very strong winds and rains that have sustained wind speeds of at least 34 meters per second or 74 miles per hour (119 km/h). It originates from the ocean, and from there it gathers its strength as it moves across the water. Under tropical cyclone classifications, a hurricane is categorized from 1 to 5, depending on its 1-minute sustained winds or 10-minute sustained winds. Its ranking on The Beaufort Scale (empirical measurement that relates wind speed to observed conditions at sea or land) is usually 12 or higher.

Categories of a Hurricane:

Name1-minute sustained winds10-minute sustained winds
Category 1 (Hurricane)64-82 knots (74-94 mph; 119-152 km/h )56-72 knots (64-83 mph; 104-133 km/h)
Category 2 (Hurricane)83-95 knots (96-109 mph; 154-176 km/h)73-83 knots (84-96 mph; 135-154 km/h)
Category 3 (Major Hurricane)96-112 knots (110-129 mph; 178-207 km/h)84-98 knots (97-113 mph; 156-181 km/h)
Category 4 (Major Hurricane)113-136 knots (130-157 mph; 209-252 km/h)99-119 knots (114-137 mph; 183-220 km/h)
Category 5 (Major Hurricane)137+ knots (158+ mph; 254+ km/h)120+ knots (140+ mph; 220+ km/h)

Potential damages of the Categories of Hurricane

Category 1 (Hurricane)Primarily damages unanchored mobile homes, trees, shrubbery, but no real damage to building structures. May also cause flooding.
Category 2 (Hurricane)Damages vegetation, mobile homes and piers; can damage roofs, doors, and windows of buildings.
Category 3 (Major Hurricane)Mobile homes and smaller structures are destroyed; will cause floods near coast; and can damage large structures.
Category 4 (Major Hurricane)Potential failures on curtain walls and roofs of residences; major erosion of beach, and may require massive evacuation due to heavy flooding.
Category 5 (Major Hurricane)Will cause roof failure on many residences and even industrial buildings; small buildings will be blown over or away; heavy damage on lower floors of all structures near the shoreline; and massive evacuation of residential areas within 5 to 10 miles on the shoreline is recommended.


A tornado approaching Elie, Manitoba in Canada.

Often referred to a twister or cyclone, a tornado is a rapidly rotating column of air that forms from the base of a cumulonimbus cloud and reaches down to the ground. It forms different shapes and sizes, but it is typically in the form of a funnel. While tornados can be spotted in most parts of the world, they are, however, most frequent along the continental plains of the U.S.A.

Generally, a tornado is called a tornado when the associated surface winds are greater than 40 mph (64 km/h), even if the said tornado is small and relatively weak. In fact, most tornadoes have wind speeds of less than 110 mph (180 km/h). They also are usually around 250 feet (80 meters) across, and travel for only a few miles before dissipating. In extreme cases, however, a tornado can reach wind speeds of more than 300 mph (480 km/h), stretch for more than 2 miles (3 km), and travel for dozens of miles.

Tornado Classification under the Enhanced Fujita Scale

ScaleWind SpeedRelative Frequency
EF0 (Enhanced Fujita Scale 0)65-85 mph (105-137 km/h)53.5%
EF1 (Enhanced Fujita Scale 1)86-110 mph (138-177 km/h)31.6%
EF2 (Enhanced Fujita Scale 2)111-135 mph (178-217 km/h)10.7%
EF3 (Enhanced Fujita Scale 3)136-165 mph (218-266 km/h)3.4%
EF4 (Enhanced Fujita Scale 4)166-200 mph (267-322 km/h)0.7%
EF5 (Enhanced Fujita Scale 5)200+ mph (322+ km/h)Less than 0.1%

Classification under the TORRO Scale

NameWind SpeedNameWind Speed
T039-54 mph (61-86 km/h)T6161-186 mph (260-299 km/h)
T155-72 mph (87-115 km/h)T7187-212 mph (300-342 km/h)
T273-92 mph (116-147 km/h)T8213-240 mph (343-385 km/h)
T393-114 mph (148-184 km/h)T9241-269 mph (386-432 km/h)
T4115-136 mph (185-220 km/h)T10270-299 mph (433-482 km/h)
T5137-160 mph (221-259 km/h)T11300+ mph (483+ km/h)

Potential damages under the Fujita scale

EF0 (Enhanced Fujita Scale 0)Minor or no damage (May cause damage to gutters and roofs; branches may break).
EF1 (Enhanced Fujita Scale 1)Moderate damage (Roofs severely stripped; heavy damage on doors and windows; mobile homes overturned/damaged).
EF2 (Enhanced Fujita Scale 2)Considerable damage (Roofs torn off on well-constructed houses; mobile homes completely destroyed; large trees uprooted; cars lifted off ground).
EF3 (Enhanced Fujita Scale 3)Severe damage (Well-constructed houses destroyed; considerable damage on large buildings; trains overturned; heavy cars lifted off  ground; heavy structures may be badly damaged).
EF4 (Enhanced Fujita Scale 4)Extreme damage (Well-constructed houses and whole frame houses completely leveled; cars are thrown and small missiles generated).
EF5 (Enhanced Fujita Scale 5)Total Destruction of Buildings (steel-reinforced concrete structures are heavily damaged; tall structures collapse; cars, trucks and even train cars can be thrown 1 mile (1.6 km)).

Hurricane vs Tornado

What’s the difference between a hurricane and a tornado? While it may be confusing for some, these two weather phenomena actually have only a few things in common.

Both have the potential to cause massive destruction, but in a different manner. Hurricanes normally cause floods and, rarely, tsunamis, while tornados cause property destruction with their sheer force. Although hurricanes also cause property destruction, they usually do it with a combination of wind and rain. Tornados, on the other hand, have their devastating effects with a combination of wind and other objects that are pulled in into their systems.

Taking in their wind speeds, a hurricane generates slower wind speeds of about 74 to 158 mph or higher. A tornado generates way faster wind speeds of about 65 to 200 mph or higher. Although tornados might have faster wind speeds, they do last for a shorter time.

One notable difference that may affect people’s safety: a hurricane follows a course. This means that people can be warned about incoming hurricanes. Tornados on the other hand, do not follow a course and can instantly form within minutes, and thus warnings may only be issued after one has already formed.

Lastly, a hurricane is formed over oceans, and a tornado is formed over land. This is one of the major reasons why a hurricane can cause a storm surge (coastal flood or tsunami-like phenomenon of rising water), while a tornado can’t.

Comparison Chart

Forms over oceansForms over land
Sustained winds of at least 74 mphWind speed is at least 40 mph
Occurs usually in warm areasOccurs usually where cold and warm fronts converge
Usually causes floods, storm surgesUsually causes property destruction
Lasts for days, sometimes weeksLasts for minutes, sometimes hours
Can go hundreds of kilometers wideCan go hundreds of meters wide
Warning may be days or weeks beforeWarning may be minutes or hours before
Can be destructiveCan be destructive


Here is an interesting video comparison between a hurricane and a tornado.