BLOG: All Things Higher Ed

20 amazing facts you didn't know about tornadoes and hurricanes

Storms showcase the true power of Mother Nature. Some of the deadliest storms imaginable are hurricanes and tornadoes. While they have some similarities, these two storms are distinct. Here is a closer look at the differences between tornadoes vs. hurricanes for those fascinated by the power of the weather.

Help prepare others for severe weather with a degree in meteorology from Central Michigan University. 

Apply now


Tornadoes vs. Hurricanes: Why it’s important to understand the difference 

Both tornadoes and hurricanes are powerful storms with wind and rain that can be deadly, depending on where and when they hit. However, they are not synonymous. Tornadoes form from rotating wind in a thunderstorm, while hurricanes form from tropical storms that develop over the ocean and hit land at the coast. Meteorologists must understand the differences between these two types of storms to help people prepare for them and to ensure they can get to safety when they are brewing. Here’s a closer look at tornadoes and hurricanes and some fascinating facts about these powerful weather events. 

Interesting facts about tornadoes 

Tornadoes tend to form in the Midwest portion of the United States and create a rotating windstorm that is devastating in a small path. Here are some fascinating facts about tornadoes. 

1. Tornadoes can form in any month of the year, not just during “tornado season”

Tornado season varies depending on where you live, but in the Midwest, it tends to run from April 1 through June 30th, when around 80% of all tornadoes happen. However, they can occur during any month of the year, sometimes even in the middle of winter. For example, in December 1953, a tornado in Mississippi killed 38 people, making it one of the deadliest winter tornadoes on record. 

2. Tornadoes can happen anywhere in the world, although they are most common in the United States

Tornadoes happen anywhere that the weather conditions create the right environment for them, but 75% of all tornadoes happen in the United States. In the US, they are most common in the central plains east of the Rocky Mountains and west of the Appalachian Mountains, but it’s not unheard of to have them in coastal areas and far northern areas either. 

3. The United States sees an average of 1,000 tornadoes each year

The Insurance Information Institute estimates an average of 1,000 tornadoes a year in the United States. While this sounds like a lot, many are light or moderate tornadoes that cause minimal, if any, damage. 

4. Tornadoes can have wind speeds upwards of 300 miles per hour

For a storm to be considered a tornado, it must have a wind speed of at least 65 mph. However, the strongest tornadoes have measured over 300 mph. 

5. Tornadoes can form from both supercell and non-supercell thunderstorms

Supercell storms produce the most deadly tornadoes. These storms occur when the wind creates a rotating updraft. Once this updraft starts rotating and pulls in warm, moist air from ground level, a tornado can form. Non-supercell tornados are usually smaller and occur when there is not an updraft. Rather, there is a vertically spinning bit of air near the ground caused by wind shear from warm or cold fronts. If conditions are right, this spinning area stretches and becomes a tornado. This is common near the Rocky Mountains where the warm air in the plains meets the cold air from the mountains. 

6. Tornadoes can be classified by their damage using the Enhanced Fujita Scale

The Enhanced Fujita Scale measures tornadoes based on wind speed, giving them a rating called an EF rating. The scale measures the wind speed of a three-second gust of wind. An EF 0 rating is from 65 to 85 mph, while an EF 5, the highest rating, is anything over 200 mph. 

7. Thunderstorms can cause “tornado outbreaks,” with multiple tornadoes in one day 

When the storm patterns are right to create one tornado, they often create more than one at the same time. These tornado outbreaks can cause extensive damage in a geographic area, even though each individual tornado has a limited range. 

8. Tornadoes can produce “debris balls” 

As the tornado spins through an area, it picks up dirt, tree limbs and leaves along with debris from all sorts of human-made items. These get spun into balls known as debris balls, which the wind can throw into buildings and cars, causing further damage. 

 9. Tornadoes can create “anticyclonic tornadoes” that spin in the opposite direction

In the Northern Hemisphere, most tornadoes turn in a counterclockwise direction, and in the Southern Hemisphere, they go clockwise. Anticyclonic tornadoes take the opposite direction, and this affects only 2% of the tornadoes in the area. These tend to be smaller and weaker than cyclonic tornadoes. 

10. Tornadoes tend to occur in “Tornado Alley” and “Dixie Alley” in the United States

Tornado Alley is a name given to a stretch of land between Kansas and Oklahoma known for its many tornadoes. Dixie Alley is a similar stretch that covers Arkansas, Mississippi and Tennessee. These areas have weather conditions that frequently turn into tornadoes. Dixie Alley has fewer tornadoes, but they tend to be stronger. 

Interesting facts about hurricanes 

Hurricanes are just as deadly as tornadoes but for different reasons. Here are some facts about hurricanes worth noting.

11. Hurricanes are known by different names in different parts of the world

In the United States, they’re known as hurricanes, but in the Northern Pacific and Philippines, they are called typhoons. People in the Indian and South Pacific Ocean regions call them cyclones. 

12. Hurricanes are rated on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale

The Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale gives hurricanes a rating from 1 to 5 based on wind speed. A category one hurricane has winds between 74 and 95 MPH, whereas a category five storm has winds of 157 mph or higher. The scale doesn’t account for rainfall, flooding and storm surges, which can also be deadly. Anything below category one is a tropical storm, not a hurricane. 

13. Hurricanes need warm ocean water and moist air to form

The need for warm ocean water and moist air is why hurricanes always form over the ocean. This is also why coastal areas are at the highest risk from hurricanes. They hit the coast at full force but weaken quickly over land. 

14. Hurricanes can travel at speeds of up to 20 miles per hour

Because they can travel so quickly, it doesn’t take long for a hurricane to make landfall after it develops over the ocean. Meteorologists spend a lot of time monitoring the trajectory of these storms. 

15. Hurricanes can have "eyewalls" with the most intense winds and rain

In the center of most hurricanes is an eye, which is an area of less intense wind and rain. Around the eye, an eyewall can develop. This is an area of intense wind and rain that swirls around the eye of the storm. It is characterized by a vertical wall of clouds forming a thick circle around the eye of the storm. 

16. Hurricanes can spawn "tornadoes" within the storm system

Tropical storms like hurricanes can sometimes spawn tornadoes within the storm system. This usually happens either near the eyewall, where intense thunderstorms develop, or well away from the storm’s center. It is the thunderstorms that accompany these storms that create the right conditions for a tornado. 

17. Hurricanes can create "storm surges" that cause coastal flooding

The storm surges from a hurricane are an abnormal rising of the water in the ocean near the shore. These surges can cause coastal areas to flood, and sometimes the flooding is more damaging than the winds from the hurricane. 

18. Hurricanes can cause massive power outages and infrastructure damage

The winds and flooding of a hurricane can take out large portions of the power grid in the affected area and cause immense damage to a community’s infrastructure. Often the aftermath of the storm involves fixing this damage to restore life to normal in the area. 

19. Hurricanes can affect areas far from their center due to their large size

A typical hurricane is about 300 miles wide, which means these storms can cause damage over a huge swath of land once they reach the coast. The flooding they cause can extend the damage even further from the center of the storm. 

20. Hurricanes can be influenced by climate change

Climate change is impacting the number and severity of hurricanes across the globe, increasing the upper limits of hurricane strength and rain rates, which is making these storms more deadly. 

Fascinated by storms? Make a career of it with a meteorology degree 

If you’re fascinated by hurricanes, tornadoes and other major weather events, consider making a career of it by becoming a meteorologist. Central Michigan University’s meteorology program is certified by the National Weather Service and will prepare you for a fascinating career studying the power of weather. Reach out to our admissions team today to start planning for your degree. 

Blog: All Things Higher Ed posted | Last Modified: | Categories: General Education
The views and opinions expressed in these blog pages are strictly those of the page author.