Climate and Weather


How does a cyclone differ from a hurricane or a tornado?

All three wind phenomena are rotating winds that spiral in toward a low-pressure center as well as upward. Their differences lie in their size, wind velocity, rate of travel, and duration. Generally, the faster the winds spin, the shorter (in time) and smaller (in size) the event becomes.

A cyclone has rotating winds from 10 to 60 miles per hour (16 to 97 kilometers per hour), can be up to 1,000 miles (1,600 kilometers) in diameter, travels about 25 miles per hour (40 kilometers per hour), and lasts from one to several weeks.

A hurricane (or typhoon, as it is called in the Pacific Ocean area) has winds that vary from 75 to 200 miles per hour (120 to 320 kilometers per hour), moves between 10 to 20 miles per hour (16 to 32 kilometers per hour), can have a diameter up to 600 miles (960 kilometers), and can exist from several days to more than a week. A tornado can reach a rotating speed of 300 miles per hour (400 kilometers per hour), travels between 25 to 40 miles per hour (40 to 64 kilometers per hour), and generally lasts only minutes, although some have lasted for five to six hours. Its diameter can range from 300 yards (274 meters) to 1 mile (1.6 kilometers) and its average path length is 5 miles (8 kilometers), with a maximum of 300 miles (483 kilometers).

Typhoons, hurricanes, and cyclones tend to breed in low-altitude belts over the oceans, generally from 5 degrees to 15 degrees latitude north or south. A tornado generally forms several thousand feet above Earth’s surface, usually during warm, humid weather; many times it is in conjunction with a thunderstorm. Although a tornado can occur in many places, they mostly appear on the continental plains of North America (i.e., from the Plains States eastward to western New York and the southeastern Atlantic states).


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