Viewer Weather Question: What is faster a tornado or a hurricane?

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This question came in from Kylei Lamborn’s 10-year-old son. His question is “Why is a tornado faster than a hurricane?” This article will break down the ground speed at which both travel at and also the wind speeds they can produce.

Tornado: The average ground speed of a tornado is 30 mph but they can also be nearly stationary to up to 70 mph. Below you will find the possible wind speeds for a tornado.

EF-0: Wind speeds between 65-85 miles per hour.

EF-1: Wind speeds between 86-110 miles per hour

EF-2: Wind speeds between 111-135 miles per hour

EF-3: Wind speeds between 136-165 miles per hour

EF-4: Wind speeds between 166-200 miles per hour

EF-5: Wind speeds over 200 miles per hour

Hurricane: The average ground speed is between 10-35 mph but they are also known to become nearly stationary. The faster moving hurricanes typically occur at higher latitudes (further away from the equator). Below you will find the possible wind speeds for a hurricane.

Cat 1: 74-95 mph

Cat 2: 96-110 mph

Cat 3: 111-129 mph

Cat 4: 130-156 mph

Cat 5: 157 mph or higher

Tornadoes typically have faster winds and ground speed compared to hurricanes and here is why.

Wind is caused by the uneven heating of the earth’s surface. The greater the difference in temperature over a short distance will cause faster winds. Hurricanes form over the water and near the equator where the winds are light and flow east to west. These winds are known as the trade winds. The water temperature where hurricanes form is normally in the 80s where there is not a big difference in temperature. Which, would cause the winds to be slower.

Tornadoes form over land which does heat unevenly. There could be a large difference in temperatures over a short distance. Grassy areas are cooler compared to city areas. The difference could be more than 20 degrees. This would cause the winds to move faster. Also, a lot of tornadoes form just ahead of a fast-moving cold front. The front causes thunderstorms to pop up and those storms can cause tornadoes.

Tornadoes spin faster because they are not as big and wide as a hurricane. If you spin with your arms straight out you don’t spin as fast as if they were near your chest. Think of an ice skater. When they pull their arms and legs closer to their body they spin faster. They spin faster because their arms and legs don’t have to travel over a longer distance to complete a full circle.

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