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Hurricanes vs Tornadoes

Hurricanes and tornadoes are some of the most violent natural occurring disasters known to mankind. While there are many differences between the two, the stark similarities are as dramatic. Both are centered on gusting wind swirling around a center; however the diameters of the storms are quite different. While hurricanes can range from 100 to 300 miles wide, tornadoes usually have only a length of less than two miles. However, a tornado makes up for its small size with extremely high wind speeds, in excess of over 250 miles per hour.

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Hurricanes on the contrary have wind speeds from 74 to 160 miles per hour. To compare and to contrast hurricanes and tornadoes the main areas of interest are the creation of both disasters, and the destructive power that is associated with both tornadoes and hurricanes. Hurricanes get their start over the warm tropical waters of the North Atlantic Ocean near the equator. Most hurricanes appear in late summer or early fall, when sea temperatures are at their highest. The warm waters heat the air above it, and the updrafts of warm, moist air begin to rise.

At that longitude in the tropics, there is usually a layer of warm, dry air that acts like an invisible ceiling or lid. Once in a while, the lid that prevents the hurricane from forming is destroyed. Scientists do not know why this happens; however, when it does, it’s the first step in the birth of a hurricane. With the lid off, the warm, moist air rises higher and higher. Heat energy, released as the water vapor in the air, condenses. As it condenses it drives the upper drafts to heights of 50,000 to 60,000 feet. The cumuli clouds become towering thunderheads.

From outside the storm area, air moves in over the sea surface to replace the air soaring upwards in the thunderheads. The air begins swirling around the storm center, for the same reason that the air swirls around a tornado center. As this air swirls in over the sea surface, it soaks up more and more water vapor. At the storm center, this new supply of water vapor gets pulled into the thunderhead updrafts, releasing still more energy as the water vapor condenses. This makes the updrafts raise faster, pulling in even larger amounts of air and water vapor from the storm’s edges.

And as the updrafts speed up, air swirls faster and faster around the storm center. What forms is what experts call a hurricane. Upon landfall, this causes destruction for many square miles. In contrast, tornados are created by a thunderstorm. A thunderstorm is created by having three main ingredients: instability, uplifting of air, and moisture in the low and middle levels of the lower atmosphere. There are three types of thunderstorms, but the main type that creates the most tornados is the supercell. This is a highly organized thunderstorm.

Although these are rare, they pose a great threat to life and property. This is like a single cell storm in that it has one updraft. However, the supercell updraft is extremely strong. This storm has a rotating updraft, or mesocyclone, that is the key to its ability to produce severe weather. This storm can produce large hail, strong downburst, and strong to violent tornadoes. As the mesocyclone strengthens it extends further downwards. At the same time, it is becoming more compact which is causing it to spin faster and faster.

If this process continues, then the mesocyclone will reach to the ground, spawning a tornado. Immense damage is associated with both hurricanes and tornados. This damage is however different for both disasters, generally hurricanes carry a greater cost due to the massive area that is affected. Tornados are much smaller, but the damage that is created in the smaller area is usually more severe. The structures and items in a tornado’s path are totally destroyed. Another issue that is distinct is one of wind and water damage. Tornados usually occur within a thunderstorm, but create no rain in itself.

The damage caused is solely through high force winds. In a hurricane the wind is much less severe, but they produce heavy amount of rain. Forming over the ocean, another issue arises with storm surge. Storm surge generally is the most costly factor in a hurricane. This happens when the hurricane pushes the ocean much farther inland that normal. In the case of Hurricane Opal, the storm surge went over dunes as high as ten feet, and destroyed highway 98 as a result. This factor is unparallel when comparing tornados and hurricanes.


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