what's the difference between a cyclone and a tornado

What’s the difference between a cyclone and a tornado?

Many people question whether tornadoes and cyclones are the same thing since they are both powerful spinning storms.

They’re not. In today’s article, we’ll explain everything about these two meteorological phenomena, including their differences.

So, keep reading!

A tornado is a powerful, twisting funnel of fast-moving wind. A cyclone is a massive, strong storm. It forms when a funnel-like column of chilly air slides down from a story cloud. A cyclone is made up of a low-pressure region surrounded by high pressure.

What Is A Cyclone?

cylone image

Meteorologists use the term “cyclone” to describe a large-scale storm composed of high winds swirling around a central point, causing it to move.

These storms are more likely to originate over the South Pacific. 

A cyclone may travel at 20-30 miles per hour and cover a large region, depending on its strength. A cyclone with a diameter of more than a hundred miles is not unusual.

What Are Tornadoes?

tornado gust

A tornado is a fast spinning column of air that extends from the base of a thunderstorm to the Earth’s surface.

This dynamic, funnel-shaped cloud is indicative of a significant storm system.

Tornadoes are observable because they almost always include a condensation funnel composed of water droplets, dust, dirt, and debris.

What’s the Difference Between a Cyclone and a Tornado?

cyclone tornado difference

Cyclones are often associated with tornadoes, another form of wind storm.

However, you should be aware of numerous significant distinctions between cyclones and tornadoes if you live or travel in places prone to these kinds of storms. 

1. Appearance

A cyclone is a low-pressure region at the center of the storm.

Depending on how the winds clash, cyclone systems may circle the eye clockwise or counterclockwise.

Isobars in cyclones are often elliptical or pear-shaped.

Any form that is longer than it is broad is normally oriented toward the storm track, with a ratio of around 3:2 for the largest diameter to the shortest diameter.

Cyclones have powerful winds, high waves, severe rain, and, in certain circumstances, very devastating storm surges and floods along the shore.


tornado funnel appearance

Tornadoes resemble massive funnels with a low height and a cylindrical form is often referred to as “stovepipe” tornadoes.

However, the things that seem like enormous wedges that are affixed to the ground are referred to as wedges. 

In addition, tornadoes might appear as a little dust devil that is located close to the ground and is difficult to see.

They also take on a twisted and rope-like appearance that narrows and stretches from the clouds down in a long and narrow tube-like way; these are known as “rope tornadoes.” 

Tornadoes with several vortices might spin around a common center and look like a single funnel.

Tornadoes are classified as multiple vortexes, waterspout, gustnado, daredevil, fire whirls, and steam devils.


Tornadoes vary in hue depending on where they occur and the color of the soil and debris gathered.

Tornadoes with minimal debris, for example, seem gray or white.

Tornadoes in the Great Plains have a reddish hue due to the color of the soil, and tornadoes in the mountainous snow-covered area become white.

2. Formation

What’s the difference between a tornado and a cyclone?

To begin, the formation processes of cyclones and tornadoes are very distinct from one another. 


formation of cyclone

Cyclones that originate in the Earth’s tropical regions feature a core of low pressure, around which a whirlwind of strong winds revolves.

When warm, moist air from a tropical region rises above the water and cools as it does, a cyclone may develop because there is less air at the ocean’s surface. 

At that point, a core of low pressure develops, which causes the air with greater pressure to move in a spiraling pattern toward its proper location.

The cyclone is strengthened with each subsequent occurrence of the same mechanism, which in turn makes the cyclone more powerful.


Tornadoes are produced in the same manner as cyclones, which is to say that they are caused by the collision of cold and hot air.

On the other hand, this often occurs when cold air from one of the poles (either the North Pole or the South Pole) comes into touch with hot air from the tropics.

The area of the United States that is colloquially referred to as “Tornado Alley” is often regarded as the most conducive environment for developing tornadoes.

This is because it is in this region that the warm air from the Gulf of Mexico meets the arctic air from the North Pole.

3. Classification

different classifications

There are six cyclones: polar, low, polar, subtropical, extratropical, tropical, and mesocyclones.

Tornadoes are classified into three basic categories based on projected wind speeds and damage:

  • Weak: EF0 and EF1 Wind speeds between 65 and 110 mph
  • Strong: EF2 and EF3 Winds of 111 to 165 miles per hour
  • Severe: EF4 and EF5 Wind gusts between 166 and 200 miles per hour

4. Place of the Occurrence

It is important to note that the great majority of tornadoes occur in the United States

On the other hand, they are capable of developing on every continent other than Antarctica. 

Cyclones can only form in the tropics because they can only develop in the warm, humid air.

This is why tropical regions make up most of the world’s surface. 

Cyclones mostly occur during a certain season and primarily harm coastal locations.  The Pacific area is home to the majority of the world’s cyclones.

5. Size

size of tornado and cyclone

The width of a cyclone is substantially greater than that of a tornado, which is another significant distinction between the two.

Yards or meters are used to estimate the diameter of a tornado. Cyclones, on the other hand, can have diameters on the order of several hundred miles!

6. Damage

Cyclones are often responsible for more destruction than tornadoes because of the enormous size difference between the two.

Cyclones are responsible for causing some of the most devastating natural catastrophes that the world has ever witnessed. 

As an example, in the year 1839, there was a storm in India that was responsible for the deaths of more than 4,000 people.

In recent times, the Bhola cyclone that struck Bangladesh in 1970 was responsible for the deaths of at least 300,000 people.

In contrast, the deadliest tornado ripped across Bangladesh in 1989, killing more than 1,300 people.

7. Frequency of Occurrence


Cyclones do not strike very often, a positive aspect of the situation. Worldwide, around 15–20 cyclones occur each year on average.

When tornadoes are taken into consideration, the figure is much greater. 

There are more than 1,200 tornadoes that occur each year in the United States on their own, while the overall number of tornadoes that occur each year around the globe is in the several thousand.

8. Speed

A tornado has quicker winds and higher speed than a cyclone.

Tornado winds may reach more than 300 miles per hour in extreme situations, but hurricane winds peak at 200 miles per hour or less. 

A tornado generally develops, contacts the earth, and dissipates faster than a cyclone, which takes days to form, touch the ground, and dissipate.

9. Weather

weather difference

The last distinction between a cyclone and a tornado is the weather that each brings.

Rainfall is almost always present during storms since tropical areas are where cyclones originate.

On the other hand, tornadoes often bring with them not just intense rainfall but often hail and sleet as well.

10. Duration

The duration of cyclones and tornadoes is drastically different.

Tornado winds are caused by a collision of air pressures and temperatures.

The colder, drier air eventually triumphs over the hotter, moisture air, and the struggle between them fades. 

This allows the storm to dissipate, generally within minutes.

On the other hand, a cyclone is so big and broad that the winds frequently do not calm down for many days.

Tips for Differentiating Between a Cyclone and a Tornado

AboutA cyclone is a fast-cycling air mass surrounding a low-pressure core that destructive weather and creates storms in the Southern Pacific.Tornadoes are rotating columns of air that may be as wide as a mile and are often accompanied with funnel-shaped cumulonimbus cloud extensions. 40-300mph winds.
IntensityUsually very strong. Saffir-Simpson and The Beaufort Scale  Scale are two cyclone measurement scales that vary by country. Winds of up to 300kph are possible, causing widespread devastation.Enhanced Fujita (EF), The Fujita (F),and TORRO (T) Scales are used to rate the intensity of tornadoes.
LocationThe Indian Ocean and the Southern Pacific Ocean. Typhoons are cyclones that reach (exceed) 74 mph in the northwest Pacific.Except for Antarctica, tornadoes have been observed on all continents.
Forms of PrecipitationRainRain, hail, and sleet.
OccurrenceWarm areasLocations where cold and warm fronts meet. It could be practically anyplace.
Frequency12-15 per yearTornadoes are more frequent in the spring and autumn, while they are less common in the winter.

Final Verdict

What’s the difference between a cyclone and a tornado? The primary distinction between a cyclone and a tornado is where it forms.

Tornadoes develop on land, but cyclones develop over the ocean. 

Though cyclones and tornadoes are potent storms, they vary in key ways. Their appearance, size, development, duration, and frequency vary.

Thanks for reading!