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Cyclone vs. Tornado: What’s the Difference?

Cyclone vs. Tornado: What’s the Difference?
Cyclone and tornado are two terms that many people use interchangeably to describe severe storms with high winds. However, there is a big difference between these two weather events.

For example, tornadoes tend to be more localized than cyclones – whereas cyclones often cover large areas of land over several miles in diameter (and sometimes even thousands of miles). Tornadoes also usually last for only about 10 to 30 minutes before dissipating completely. With this information in mind, hopefully, you’ll understand the differences between these types of storms!

This blog post will focus on the difference between a cyclone and a tornado, as well as how they can each affect you.

What is a Cyclone?

A cyclone is a large-scale, swirling horizontal wind. The core of strong winds (up to 150 mph) surrounded by little whirlwinds in the eyewall make up this type of storm system. Cyclones rotate counterclockwise in the Northern Hemisphere and clockwise in the Southern Hemisphere. They are also known as hurricanes or typhoons depending on where in the world they originate.

What is a Tornado?

A tornado forms when warm air near ground level meets cold air above it. The result is an updraft that causes spinning at high speeds creating what looks like a funnel shape extending downward—this direction depends on which hemisphere you’re located in! This violent force has been measured over 300 per hour but normally doesn’t last for more than ten minutes.

Also, you can check What Is TORCON Index? article.

Similarities Between Cyclones and Tornadoes

  • Both are intense storms with powerful wind;
  • Both are capable of causing major damage to structures;
  • Both are capable of causing widespread fatalities;
  • Both can occur in various parts of the world (i.e., North America, Australia, etc.);

Tropical cyclones and tornadoes are both formed from a certain type of thunderstorm known as an air mass storm. Such storms form when cool dry air meets warm moist air and create updrafts that drive clouds forward by creating winds.

Cyclone vs Tornado – The Differences

Geographical location

When talking about a cyclone, people are usually referring to an area called the “tropical” belt that is between 20 to 30 degrees latitude. A tornado can form outside of this region but it will generally weaken as it moves away from the tropics because low pressure decreases with distance from Earth’s equator.

Tornadoes are most common in the United States, Bangladesh, Brazil, and Eastern India.

Cyclones are more likely to occur over land near the coast of Australia, Southeast Asia, or China.


  • Tornadoes are formed from powerful thunderstorms, which can grow into cyclones when they form in tropical regions;
  • Cyclones are formed from large areas of thunderstorm activity, which can grow into tornadoes when they form in tropical regions;

A cyclone is a rotating wind that forms over warm oceans and moves across the land, often bringing heavy rainfall to coastal regions along with flooding. A tornado is an intense column of whirling air that rotates violently at the base of a thunderstorm cloud or cumulonimbus.

Differences Between Cyclones and Tornadoes

They tend to form near mountains when winds change direction as they move up and down through mountain passes also known as “air gaps” where cold dry air meets moist warm air. The most destructive tornadoes occur in North America east of the Rocky Mountains during the spring and summer months between April and August!

Place of occurrence

A cyclone is a storm system characterized by low pressure at the center and spiraling winds that turn inward towards the eye of the storm. Cyclones usually form over warm water where surface temperatures are greater than 80F. They can also occur in the land, but this is rarer due to lower moisture levels closer to Earth’s surface.

A tornado, on the other hand, typically forms during violent thunderstorms with strong updraft currents that give it its distinctive shape. The worst tornadoes are capable of intensity F-scale ratings 4-5 times more powerful than average storms, reaching speeds up to 300 miles per hour.

A cyclone and a tornado can both be expected to cause significant damage when they hit land, but where exactly these weather events occur is actually quite different. A hurricane or typhoon typically forms over the ocean before heading toward shorelines whereas tornadoes are generally found in open spaces with flat terrain like farmlands. However, there have been reports of tornadoes forming within hurricanes as well!


The size of a cyclone is measured by its radius, which is equal to half the distance between the center and perimeter. A smaller storm will have a small radius, while bigger storms will have larger radii.

Tornadoes are measured by their width across (or height) instead of length along the ground. This makes it easier for meteorologists to distinguish different types of tornadoes of varying sizes.


The average cyclone has a forward speed of around 20 mph. That means it takes about 30 minutes for one to travel its own length. Stronger storms can reach forward speeds over 100 mph, which is faster than many people are able to run!

Tornadoes, on the other hand, usually move at between 18 and 38 miles per hour but recently have been observed moving as fast as 73 miles per hour. To put that in perspective, imagine you’re standing still while holding your arm outstretched with your fingers pointing upward. Then suddenly somebody hits you hard enough from behind so that your arm swings forward.


A tornado typically causes damage “to a much smaller scale” than a cyclone, and the associated winds are more concentrated. In general, tornadoes have been estimated to cause between 80% or 90% of all-natural disasters that result in structural damages.

A cyclone typically causes damage to “a much larger scale” than a tornado, and the associated winds are less concentrated.

Cyclones are larger than tornadoes, so the area covered by a cyclone is typically much greater. Also, while both can cause extensive damage and injuries in populated areas when they do occur, the fact that hurricanes tend to track over coastal regions for an extended period of time allows ample opportunities for evacuation or sheltering in place. In contrast with tornadoes which only impact small geographic areas at any given moment in time.

Frequency of occurrence

Tornadoes typically form in a single storm system and last only 20 minutes. The frequency of tornadoes is not as common as hurricanes or cyclones, but they do happen about four times per year in the United States alone.

Cyclones are more common than tornados. They happen every single day, with multiple sub-categories that occur within the cyclone category. Cyclone frequency is dependent on the location and climate conditions of the area in which it occurs.

Weather conditions

A cyclone is a weather system with winds that rotate around a relatively calm center. The pressure in the eye of this storm is measurably lower than outside, and often there are heavy rains at its core.

A tornado usually only occurs when supercells are from within these systems. Tornadoes can be about 100 yards wide or more and last for several minutes before dissipating entirely. These types of storms also cause much less damage than hurricanes because they do not carry as much water vapor, mostly causing large amounts of wind damage to homes and other buildings.


For both a cyclone and a tornado, the storm starts with an area of low pressure. As air rushes into this area, it begins to rotate because of the Coriolis effect. The difference between tornadoes and cyclones is where that rotation forms on the energy map:

  • For cyclones, the rotation forms at low altitudes. This is called “cyclogenesis”. The Coriolis effect creates a counterclockwise rotation in the Northern Hemisphere and a clockwise rotation in the Southern Hemisphere;
  • Tornadoes can form when there’s already some kind of disturbance on top of that area with an area of lower pressure. That disturbance could be anything from a cold front to converging winds near mountains. As this happens, air rushes into that space and gets pushed upward – and then downward again by gravity – which feeds more energy into the storm until it becomes self-sustaining (or nearly so). At this point, you have what’s called a supercell thunderstorm: rotating updrafts of air. So basically, it’s not just “any old wind” that turns into a tornado. There has to be some kind of storm already in place for the rotation within the storm to get pulled down toward Earth’s surface and intensify into a tornado;


Tornadoes typically touch down for less than an hour, whereas cyclones can last for days.

One way to distinguish a tornado from a cyclone is the shape of the cloud. In a tropical cyclone, there are circular bands of thunderstorms that surround a clear eye, while in tornadoes this feature does not exist.

Another signifier of tornadoes is their smaller radius and shorter duration when compared to other similar storms.


Is a cyclone or tornado worse?

A cyclone is worse. Here’s why: cyclones typically cause more damage than tornadoes, because they can produce winds that are much stronger and last for longer periods of time. As the atmospheric pressure drops inside a cyclone it causes water to form into very strong storms or hurricanes that bring wind speeds up to 200 miles per hour.

Can a cyclone turn into a tornado?

Yes, a cyclone can turn into a tornado. If the conditions are right, a cyclone can turn into a tornado. A typical tornado forms from rotation in an area of thunderstorm cloud known as “Tornado alley” or sometimes by the hook shape that develops within some rain-bearing clouds. It is believed that most tornadoes form on what is called the “backside” of supercells where downdrafts descend and hit ground level. This suggests there might be something about this downdraft hitting a ground level that causes the tornadic activity to start.

Since rotational winds at surface levels have been shown not to contribute much to updraft speeds minimizing initial formation hazards for new tornadoes once they touch down although these low-level circulations still may cause problems with flying debris if strong enough.

Are cyclones dangerous?

Yes, they can be very dangerous. Cyclone winds can reach speeds of over 155 miles per hour and cause extensive property damage. If you live in an area where a cyclone is likely, make sure to take the proper safety precautions whether at home or work.

Why do storms have names?

Storms have names to help people communicate about the storm and its effects. Each storm receives a name to help keep them organized.

There are 6 lists of names that are used one after another each year, which are reused every 6th year.

The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) is responsible for the naming process and maintains this list with support from agencies around the world. This ensures that storms have consistent naming systems across regions. Some countries will name their tropical cyclones differently based on local language or cultural significance, but there is still some order in how these names are chosen.

What happens in a tropical storm?

Tropical storms are the same as cyclones. They form over warm water and usually spin in a counterclockwise direction, from east to west across the southern hemisphere or north to south with warmer temperatures in northern latitudes.

What is a state of emergency?

A state of emergency is a measure that authorizes local government officials to take special actions, such as restricting or prohibiting access and occupancy in all buildings. Other measures might include the closing of public schools and businesses, evacuation orders for residents who live in certain areas; curfews; traffic restrictions; bans on alcohol sales, etc.

It’s important to follow these instructions carefully since they are intended to protect you from danger. There are no specific guidelines regarding what constitutes an official state of emergency by law but there may be different levels of emergencies depending on the area where it occurs. Sometimes an order comes directly from the governor which means that all federal agencies will assist with its implementation if necessary.

What is the biggest tornado ever?

The most recent tornado to be documented was the El Reno Tornado in 2013, which had a width of more than two miles.

Is a hurricane a tornado on water?

No, hurricanes are tropical cyclones whereas tornadoes are violent rotating storms that develop over land. Hurricanes usually form in the Atlantic Ocean and sometimes along the Gulf Coast of North America while tornadoes can happen anywhere in the world (including oceans).

Does a tornado have an eye?

No, tornadoes do not have an eye.

How do you destroy a tornado?

You can’t. People or natural forces do not destroy tornadoes. They’re only relocated if they hit a body of water like an ocean or lake; otherwise, it will dissipate once the storm is over.

Useful Video: Hurricane, Tornado, Cyclone – What’s the Difference?