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Twister vs. Tornado: What’s the Difference?

Twister vs. Tornado: What’s the Difference?

In the world of weather, there are many dangerous and powerful storms that can cause a lot of damage. Two of the most infamous are tornadoes and twisters. But what’s the difference between them? And how can you protect your home and family from either one? In this article, we will answer these questions and provide some valuable tips on how to stay safe during a tornado or twister storm.

What Is a Tornado?

A tornado is a rotating air column that is formed beneath a thunderstorm and extends from the clouds all down to the ground. The destructive power of tornadoes is unmatched. They can form in just minutes and cause death, destruction all around them before you know what’s happening. They typically appear in the Midwest United States, but can occur anywhere in the world.

Tornadoes are most often formed during the late spring and early summer months, when warm, moist air from the Gulf of Mexico collides with cooler, dry air from Canada. This clash of air masses creates instability in the atmosphere, which can lead to severe thunderstorms and tornadoes.

What Is a Tornado?

While all thunderstorms have the potential to produce tornadoes, not all do. In fact, most thunderstorms never produce tornadoes. For a tornado to form, certain conditions must be present for a sustained period of time. These include:

  • Warm, moist air near the ground
  • Cool, dry air aloft
  • A change in wind direction with height (known as wind shear)
  • An unstable atmosphere

If these conditions are present, a thunderstorm may produce a tornado. However, not all thunderstorms that produce tornadoes will result in catastrophic damage. In fact, most tornadoes cause relatively minor damage. The vast majority of tornadoes are classified as either EF0 or EF1 on the Enhanced Fujita Scale, and tornadoes that belong to these two categories are considered weak.

Usually tornadoes have a size of around 500 feet across, but their sizes can vary. When it comes to wind speeds, these can range from 40 mph for the weak tornadoes to up to 360 mph for the most violent tornadoes. Possible travel distance is also worth mentioning, as a tornado can travel for 5 full miles on the ground! Although, again it depends on its destructive power. [1], [2], [3], [4], [6]

There are different types of tornadoes, including:

Rope tornadoes

Rope tornadoes are the most common type of tornado. They typically form from thunderstorms that are not particularly severe and do not last very long. Rope tornadoes tend to be relatively weak, but they have the potential to grow larger and larger.

Cone tornadoes

Cone tornadoes are less common than rope tornadoes, but they can be more destructive. Cone tornadoes form when a thunderstorm is extremely powerful and lasts for an extended period of time.

Wedge tornadoes

Wedge tornados are the largest and most destructive type of tornado. They form when a thunderstorm is unusually large and intense, due to this they often belong to at least EF3 category of destruction.

Multi Vortex tornadoes

Multi Vortex tornadoes are characterized by two or more rotating columns of air. These tornadoes are relatively rare, but they can be very destructive. [4], [5]

What is a Twister?

A twister is a small, relatively weak tornado, yes tornado. Which means they are the same thing at the end of the day!

What is a Twister?

While twisters can cause damage, they are not as destructive as larger tornadoes. Most twisters last for only a few minutes and dissipate quickly.

There are two main types of twisters: landspout tornadoes and waterspout tornadoes.

Landspout tornadoes form over land when warm air rises rapidly through cool air near the ground. These types of twisters are usually weaker than other types of tornadoes and don’t last very long.

Waterspout tornadoes form over water when a rotating column of air forms over the water’s surface. These twisters are generally even weaker than those that form over land.

Both landspout and waterspout tornadoes can occur even if no thunderstorm is present. [1], [2], [3], [4], [6]

Why Do People Confuse Them?

Given that twisters are small, relatively weak tornadoes, it’s not surprising that people often confuse the two. After all, they both share the same general characteristics: they’re both rotating columns of air that can cause damage.

Both tornadoes and twisters are also associated with thunderstorms. In fact, most tornadoes form from thunderstorms.

While both words are used interchangeably, there is technically a difference between a tornado and a twister. A tornado is a rotating column of air that forms beneath a thunderstorm and extends from the cloud to the ground. Both typically occur in the Midwest United States, but can occur anywhere in the world.

On the other hand, a twister is simply another word for a tornado. The word “twister” is more commonly used in pop culture, but both words refer to the same thing: a rotating column of air that forms beneath a thunderstorm and extends from the cloud to the ground. [1], [2], [3], [4], [6]

Despite their similarities, there are some key differences between twisters and tornadoes that set them apart. Let’s take a look at them.

How Tornadoes and Twisters are Different

They are formed differently

Both are formed when warm air rises rapidly through the atmosphere and collides with colder air. This collision creates an updraft that rotates, and if the conditions are just right, an air spiral can form.

How Tornadoes and Twisters are Different

But some researchers believe that tornadoes are created with the help of a low pressure system while a twister is created by a high pressure system. [2]

They have a different appearance

The most basic difference between a twister and a tornado is their appearance. A tornado looks like a large, dark, rotating air cloud that extends from the base of a thunderstorm down to the ground. Twisters, on the other hand, tend to look like a smaller funnel cloud. They also typically form in groups or “swarms” rather than alone like tornadoes do.

Both tornadoes and twisters are also composed of debris and are accompanied by rain. [2]

Twisters aren’t as destructive as tornadoes are

While twisters can be destructive, they pale in comparison to tornadoes. Tornadoes are much larger and more powerful than twisters. Tornadoes can destroy entire buildings and uproot trees, while twisters usually only damage roofs and topple over trees.

Tornadoes also tend to last longer than twisters do. Twisters typically only last for a few minutes, while tornadoes can last for more than an hour. Lastly, tornadoes generally occur in areas of low pressure, while twisters occur in areas of high pressure. [2]

What Other Natural Disasters Are Confused With Tornadoes?

Tornadoes are sometimes confused with other natural disasters, such as hurricanes and cyclones. These are essentially the same natural phenomenon. However, there are several key differences between these disasters, mostly based on the location they appear in.

How Are Hurricanes Different From Tornadoes and Twisters?

The most obvious difference is that hurricanes are much, much larger. A typical hurricane spans hundreds of miles, while a tornado might only be a few hundred yards wide. But size isn’t the only thing that sets these storms apart. Another big difference is how they form.

Tornadoes form when warm air from the Gulf of Mexico collides with cold air from the Rocky Mountains. This clash creates an unstable environment in which thunderstorms can quickly spin up into tornadoes.

Hurricanes, on the other hand, form over warm ocean waters near the equator. As the water evaporates, it rises into the atmosphere and condenses into rain clouds. The heat released by this condensation fuels the storm, helping it to grow larger and stronger.

Both hurricanes and tornadoes can cause devastating damage, but they tend to affect different parts of the world. Hurricanes mainly appear in the North Atlantic Ocean and Northeast Pacific.

How Are Cyclones Different?

While these weather events are similar, there are some key differences that set them apart. For starters, cyclones are much larger in scale than either twisters or tornadoes because they are formed of multiple thunderstorms. Cyclones can span hundreds or even thousands of miles, whereas twisters and tornadoes are usually only a few miles wide. Additionally, cyclones tend to form over open bodies of water like the ocean, while tornadoes typically form over land. Finally, cyclones rotate in a counterclockwise direction in the Southern Hemisphere, near the Indian Ocean. Tornadoes, on the other hand, always rotate in a counterclockwise direction regardless of their location on the globe.

How Are Typhoons Different?

While typhoons and tornadoes both involve rotating winds, there are several key differences between the two. For one, typhoons form over oceans while tornadoes form over land. Additionally, typhoons tend to be much larger than tornadoes. They are typically present in the Northwest Pacific Ocean areas. [1], [4], [6], [7], [8]

Preparing for a Natural Disaster

No matter where you live, it’s important to be prepared for a natural disaster.

Preparing for a Natural Disaster

Tornado watch vs Tornado warning

First, remember the difference between tornado watch and warning. A tornado watch means that conditions are favorable for a tornado to form, so you should keep an eye on the sky and be prepared to take shelter. A tornado warning means that a tornado has been spotted and you should take cover immediately.

If a tornado is likely to develop, the National Weather Service will issue a tornado watch for a specific area. If a tornado is already occurring or is imminent, a tornado warning will be issued.

Have an emergency plan ready

You should have an emergency plan in place for both tornadoes and hurricanes. This plan should include a safe place to take shelter, as well as a route to get there if you need to evacuate.

If you live in an area that’s susceptible to hurricanes, it’s important to have an evacuation route planned out ahead of time.

You should also stock up on supplies like food, water, and medicine that will last for at least three days. Other items to include in your emergency kit are a flashlight, batteries, and a first-aid kit. By being prepared for a natural disaster, you can help keep yourself and your family safe in the event of an emergency.

Find a way to get notified

In the event of a tornado or hurricane, you’ll need to be able to receive emergency alerts.

One way to do this is to sign up for local alert systems. The Emergency Alert System (EAS) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Weather Radio are two examples of government-run alert systems that can notify you of impending weather emergencies.

You can also download apps like NOAA Weather Radar Live, which will give you real-time updates on severe weather in your area. But most of the modern smartphones have an option to receive emergency alerts as well, so you may already be covered.

Where to hide in case of a tornado?

When a tornado is looming, head to the lowest level of your home or office and put as many walls between you and the outdoors as possible, hide under the table or something sturdy for more protection. A small interior room like a closet or bathroom is ideal. If you’re in a high-rise building, go to the stairwell in the center of the building. And if you’re outdoors, lie flat in a ditch or culvert away from any trees or power lines.[9]


What does a twister look like?

A twister is typically a small, localized column of whirling air. It may appear as a rotating cloud of debris, or as a funnel cloud.

A tornado, on the other hand, is a much larger and more destructive phenomenon. Tornadoes can be up to half a mile wide and have winds that can reach speeds of over 300 miles per hour. They are often accompanied by thunderstorms and large hail. But other than that, torndoes and twisters are the exact same phenomenon.

Twisters are typically not thought of as deadly as tornadoes, although if they touch down in populated regions, they may cause significant damage and even fatalities. In fact, the majority of tornado-related fatalities in the United States are caused by tiny twisters rather than huge tornadoes.

Is a twister bigger than a tornado?

No, a twister is not necessarily bigger than a tornado. They are both large, powerful storms that can cause damage. The main difference between the two is that a tornado has a rotating column of air while a twister does not. Tornadoes are also more destructive because of their high winds.

What does a twister look like?

A twister is typically a small, rotating column of air that extends from the base of a cumulonimbus cloud to the ground. Twisters generally appear as a narrow cone of whirling debris at the lower end of a thunderstorm.

Useful Video: Tornadoes&Twisters- The main types


o, what’s the difference between a tornado and a twister? In short, they are basically the same. Twister is a slang name for a tornado. But there are some smaller differences between the two after all.

Tornadoes form in low pressure while twisters appear in high-pressure environments. Tornadoes are usually more destructive than their less deadly counterparts, but this doesn’t apply to every tornado incident, some may be similar to twisters in terms of power. Twisters may have a much slimmer shape than tornadoes, although it’s not always the case. If you want to be extra prepared for either of these weather events, make sure you know what to do when a warning is issued in your area. Stay safe!


  1. https://www.bustle.com/articles/82430-tornado-cyclone-twister-or-hurricane-heres-what-each-term-actually-means-so-youll-never-be-confused
  2. http://www.differencebetween.info/difference-between-twister-and-tornado
  3. https://difference.guru/difference-between-twister-and-tornado/
  4. https://www.tornadoxtreme.com/tornado-vs-twister/
  5. https://www.air-worldwide.com/blog/posts/2019/6/did-you-know-theres-more-than-one-type-of-tornado/
  6. https://media.bom.gov.au/social/blog/6/tornado-twister-hurricane-tropical-cyclone-typhoonwhats-the-difference/
  7. https://www.americangeosciences.org/critical-issues/faq/how-does-damage-hurricanes-compare-tornadoes
  8. https://www.dictionary.com/e/typhoons-hurricanes-cyclones/
  9. https://www.cdc.gov/disasters/tornadoes/prepared.html