Tornado vs Twister

Tornado vs Twister Comparison (are there differences?)

You’ve probably heard reporters refer to tornadoes as twisters, but is this correct? Are tornadoes and twisters really the same thing? Yes, they are. When you hear someone talk about a twister, they are indeed referring to a tornado. The word twister is slang for tornado, so it’s important to start any tornado vs twister comparison with this information and to clear up any confusion there may be.

In this article we’ll help define these storms, explain some common types of tornadoes and twisters, and list some other major storms and meteorological events that are sometimes confused with twisters.

Let’s get started.

What is a Twister or Tornado?

A tornado consists of a vortex twisting at an incredibly rapid speed. Unstable pressures in the air caused by the collision of warm and cold air masses can lead to tornadoes. In most situations, it will get stronger as it makes its way across land. After a tornado hits land, there is speeding up of the spinning air and it sucks up dirt and debris found on its path.

Twister vs Tornado

One of the reasons why many tornadoes (with the exception of rain-wrapped tornadoes) are easy to see is because of the debris and dirt sucked up into them. Tornadoes or twisters by themselves usually don’t have a color.

What Are Some Other Names For Tornadoes?

There are many different kinds of twisters or tornadoes. Let’s take a look at some of them below: 

Rope Tornado

A rope tornado is the most common kind of tornado. Rope tornadoes also tend to be among the smallest types of tornadoes. This type of tornado is shaped a bit like a long rope, hence its name.

Different Types of Tornadoes and Twisters - Rope Tornado
A long, thin, rope tornado

Other tornadoes usually start out as rope tornadoes and then grow to be larger. Sometimes they will remain rope tornadoes and then dissipate.

Many large tornadoes also finish as a rope before they dissipate – something some people refer to as “roping out.”

If a tornado keeps its rope shape for the whole of its life, then it will likely only last a short period of time. Keep in mind that even though rope tornadoes are small and tend not to last as long as some other types of tornadoes, they are still very dangerous if you are in their path. 

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Cone Tornado

The cone tornado is the tornado you have seen pictures of striking the Plains states. In accordance with its name, a cone tornado is shaped like a cone.

Cone Tornado

This kind of tornado has a narrower width where they come in contact with the ground than where they reach the base of the thunderstorm associated with it. A cone tornado tends to be more dangerous than a rope tornado. This is because of the wider width and path. 

A tornado like this, but with a more vertical, cylindrical structure is called a stovepipe tornado.

Wedge Tornado

Wedge tornadoes are often the most severe and largest storms. This kind of tornado can have greater width than height. The width of the tornado means that it can create an especially large path of destruction.

When a wedge tornado strikes, it can have a damage path wider than half a mile. Most wedge tornadoes are large and severe tornadoes. They generally have a rating at minimum of EF-3.

Many wedge tornadoes have been so large that they break records and make history. The El Reno tornado of May 31, 2013 travelled across Oklahoma and was the widest tornado on record. Its width reached 2.6 miles. 

Multi-Vortex and Satellite Tornadoes

Supercell thunderstorms can sometimes create several tornadoes at the same time. A supercell thunderstorm is a thunderstorm that has a specific organization and has a strong circulation. It is the storm’s circulation that makes tornado formation more likely.

Tornado vs Twister Comparison
Storm with multiple tornado vortices

A multi-vortex tornado storm has a minimum of two small areas that are twisting around the primary parent circulation. The additional areas of circulation are, in effect, small rope tornadoes.

In extremely severe circumstances, there can be two full tornadoes spinning separately from each other. The second tornado in this kind of storm is referred to as a satellite tornado. Satellite tornadoes are rare occurrences and can be extremely dangerous and damaging. 

Landspouts and Waterspouts

A landspout tornado or a waterspout tornado is able to occur even when there aren’t any thunderstorms in the area. While landspouts are recorded in the tornado records, waterspouts are not. You should know that waterspouts can be dangerous, however, if you are on the water. They are able to create hazardous conditions on the water, even overturning boats.

Tornado and Twister Types - Waterspout Tornado
A waterspout tornado

A landspout tornado can happen when there are conditions that will allow the formation of a weak vortex. A landspout tornado is weak and usually only lasts a few minutes. They can cause damage, however, to the objects in their path. As with any kind of tornado, you must follow a safety plan in order to prevent injury. 

Storms Sometimes Confused with Tornadoes and Twisters

Below are some storms that are occasionally confused with tornadoes and twisters. Cyclones, hurricanes, and typhoons are all the same kind of storm. They have different names when they hit different parts of the world. 

  • Cyclone: Cyclones are tropical storms that develop over the Indian Ocean and the South Pacific Ocean. 
  • Hurricane: Hurricanes are tropical storms that develop over the Northeast Pacific and North Atlantic Ocean.
  • Typhoon: Typhoons develop over the Northwest Pacific Ocean. 
  • Tsunami: A tsunami takes place when a volcanic eruption or earthquake that occurs beneath the ocean creates a violent series of waves. 

A hurricane (or cyclone or typhoon) differs from a tornado in significant ways. One way lies in the difference in size of the two storms. A hurricane often has a diameter of hundreds of miles, creating heavy rains and severe winds across an entire region. A tornado, on the other hand, usually has a width not exceeding more than a few hundred feet.

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

Another difference between hurricanes and tornadoes is in the area of duration. Tornadoes generally last only minutes while hurricanes can ensure for days or, in some cases, weeks. 

Tornado vs Twister – Final Thoughts

As we’ve learned here, a twister and a tornado are both the same storm. Unpredictable and dangerous, it’s essential that you create a tornado safety plan to keep yourself safe and free from injury if a tornado ever hits your area.

Plan on going to an underground shelter, such as your basement. If you do not have a basement, stay on the lowest level of your house and stay far away from windows and outside walls. If you have heavy blankets or towels, use those to cover yourself to protect your body from flying glass and debris.

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