Difference Between Twister and Tornado

By: | Updated: Feb-28, 2024
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Have you ever wondered if there’s a difference between a tornado and a twister? You’ve most likely heard weather forecasters and news reporters talk about tornadoes and twisters. But what’s the difference between these two scary storms?

What is a Tornado?

A tornado is one of the most destructive storms on the planet. These weather events are generated by spinning winds that can be over 200 mph. The tornado itself can be over 1 mile wide in some cases.

Tornadoes are spinning air columns that create a twisting vortex, which can gain strength as it heads over land.

How Does a Tornado Form?

A tornado can form when unstable air pressures meet, caused when cold and warm air masses meet. A funnel cloud is formed in the thunderstorm. Some funnel clouds become tornadoes, while others disperse in the air.

But when a tornado forms, it becomes a spinning mass of air that gains speed as it sucks up things in its path. While most tornadoes are colorless, they are usually easy to see due to the dirt and debris they pick up. Once a tornado has formed, there’s no way to stop it. Some tornadoes grow to be immense and tear up large areas of homes, businesses, and land. The faster a tornado spins, the wider it becomes.

How Does a Tornado Stop?

Scientists and meteorologists say there are still many mysteries about how tornadoes form and what causes them to “die.” But one thing that’s obvious is that when a tornado “dies,” the destruction also stops.

How Do Meteorologists Predict Tornadoes or Twisters?

It all starts with daily forecasts (predictions) from meteorologists at NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) and the National Weather Service. These organizations determine where organized thunderstorms are in the US, and the meteorologists monitor the areas that have a high risk of developing twisters.

When conditions develop that allow tornadoes to form, NOAA and the National Weather Service issue severe thunderstorms and tornado watches. These usually last between 4-6 hours. The watches allow local meteorologists, emergency centers, and storm spotters to watch for the potential development of severe thunderstorms and twisters.

Meteorologists use visual cues and radar images to search for tornadic vortex signatures (TVS). They also rely on computer programs and algorithms to determine when and where a twister may form. Another tool meteorologists use is Doppler radar. Doppler radar can detect large rotating updrafts that are inside a supercell (a severe type of thunderstorm). These rotating updrafts are called “mesocyclones,” and are usually 2-6 miles wide. Twisters develop inside a mesocyclone. Meteorologists may see a “hook echo” on the Doppler radar image.

Storm spotters are trained to recognize tornadic conditions and report what they see to the National Weather Service.

Tornado warnings are issued by local National Weather Service offices. This happens when a twister has been seen or indicated on weather radar. People in the warning area need to take shelter immediately.

Due to advances in technology and understanding the conditions that favor tornado formation, warnings usually last about 30 minutes on average. During this time, the tornado will pass over the specific area and into other areas. The tornado warnings will follow the twister as long as it’s on the ground and/or the potential for the formation of more tornadoes exists.

Now, you may be wondering what the difference is between a tornado and a twister. We’ll take a look at that question in the next section!

Difference Between Twister and Tornado

 What’s the Difference Between a Tornado and a Twister?

The truth is that tornadoes and twisters are the same thing! “Tornado” is the scientific term used by scientists and meteorologists, while “twister” is the slang term for tornadoes.

While tornadoes and twisters are the same thing, there are different types of tornadoes.

Rope tornado: the most common type of tornado (or twister), this is also the smallest kind of tornado, which forms a long rope-like structure. Most tornadoes start out as a rope tornado; however, some become much larger and more destructive. Rope tornadoes don’t last very long; however, they can still cause damage. It’s necessary to seek cover if you see one of these twisters.

Cone tornado: has a cone-shape, with a wider size and larger path. These tornadoes or twisters are more dangerous than the rope tornado. Because of their cylindrical shape, these twisters are sometimes called stovepipe tornadoes.

Wedge tornadoes: are one of the most dangerous tornadoes. They usually are usually higher and wider than “regular” twisters, causing more damage.

Multi-vortex tornadoes: are also called satellite tornadoes because they create several tornadoes in one place at the same time. These are usually caused by a strong circulation of air that causes a larger tornado to form. These twisters are extremely dangerous.

Tornado (Twister) Classification

As noted earlier, tornadoes can come in a variety of sizes and shapes. They may move fast or slow, but they also vary in intensity. Tornadoes are classified into three groups based on their approximate wind speeds and the damage they cause.

These storms are measured according to the F-Scale, created by Dr. Theodore Fujita. This new scale is called the Enhanced F-Scale and is now the standard for measuring tornado strength and the damage caused.

EF Number 3 Second Gust (mph)
0 65 to 85
1 86 to 110
2 111 to 135
3 136 to 165
4 166 to 200
5 Over 200

Types of Storms Confused with Twisters

There are several types of storms that are sometimes confused with tornadoes/twisters, including the following:

Cyclone: a cyclone is a tropical storm that’s common in the Indian and South Pacific Oceans.

Hurricane: are another type of tropical storm that occur in the North Atlantic and Northeast Pacific Oceans. These storms are extremely powerful but are not related to tornadoes.

Tsunami: is usually caused by volcanic eruptions or earthquakes in the ocean. These can cause massive waves of water to form and hit the land, causing horrendous damage.

Concluding Thoughts

Now you know that “tornado” and “twister” refer to the same type of storm, which is caused by the meeting of warm and cold air masses that form the funnel-shaped twister or tornado.

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