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prepare for a storm

Getting ready for a storm is critical. Building a plan can help you stay safe, mitigate damage and make the recovery process as smooth as possible. This MasterKit will guide you through the steps you should take ahead of time, so you'll be ready to take action when a storm hits.
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Article / 4 MINS

Hurricane vs. Tornado: What's the Difference?

Hurricanes and tornadoes may have a lot in common when it comes to destruction, but do you know the differences when it comes to sheltering from these storms?

If you live in Tornado Alley or along the Atlantic or Gulf coastlines of the U.S., you probably already know that tornadoes and hurricanes can be destructive and deadly. And while they have some similarities, they also have major differences you need to know about when it comes to staying safe.
What is a Hurricane?
hurricane symbol
  • A hurricane forms when warm, moist air over the ocean rises, leaving less air near the surface, which causes an area of low air pressure.
  • Surrounding high pressure air becomes part of the system, forming clouds. The system begins to spin and grow, fueled by the heat and water of the ocean. As the storm rotates faster, a clearly defined eye forms at the center.
  • The storm is considered a tropical depression when wind speeds are between 23 and 39 mph, and it becomes a tropical storm when wind speeds reach 39 mph.
  • Tropical depressions become hurricanes when wind speeds are 74 mph and the storm has marked rotation and a solid eye.
  • Not every tropical depression will evolve into a hurricane, and it can take hours or days for this to occur, depending on atmospheric conditions.
  • Hurricanes usually provide plenty of advanced warning, but the exact track of a storm is difficult to predict until perhaps 24 hours or less before it makes landfall, so know your storm safety plan and be prepared to put it into action if a hurricane warning is issued and you have to evacuate.
What is a Tornado?
a tornado
  • There's no simple explanation for how most tornadoes form. They almost always form out of supercell thunderstorms with rotation and circulation that can be picked up by radar. Supercells also can produce large hail, lightning, flooding, and damaging winds.
  • Unlike hurricanes, tornadoes can form in outbreaks, meaning the same weather system can spawn multiple tornadoes - up to six to 10 - across a large area.
  • One of the worst tornado outbreaks in recent memory occurred from April 26-28, 2011. Known as "Superoutbreak," the massive storm system launched 349 tornadoes in 21 states, 15 of which were EF5 tornadoes (winds in excess of 200 mph), causing $11 billion in damages and killing 321 people.1
  • Tornadoes can last from seconds to hours and travel long distances, but most stay on the ground for about 10 minutes or less and travel only three miles.2
  • When a tornado watch is issued, conditions are imminent for tornadoes and severe weather for the next three- to six-hours. If a tornado watch is issued in your area, consider where you will shelter in case a one comes your way. Communicate with your family members and be aware of everyone's locations. Know your storm safety plan and be prepared to put it into action if a tornado warning is issued and you have to shelter immediately.
  • If a tornado warning is issued, it means the threat of a tornado is immediate for the next three- to six-hours because:
    • Doppler radar has detected strong rotation in a thunderstorm.
    • Dual-polarization Doppler radar detected a tornado debris signature.
    • Trained storm spotters have reported a funnel cloud or tornado.
  • Unlike a hurricane that can be tracked for days, you may have only minutes - or seconds - of advanced warning of an approaching tornado, so be prepared.
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