What is the difference between a twister and a tornado?

People often confuse the terms tornado and twister, but is there a difference between the two? What would the word ‘tornado’ mean to you? Does it bring the image of destruction and chaos? Have you ever faced a tornado or a twister?

The confusion between the two words emerged after a movie “Twister” that was released in 1996 associated the word twister with tornadoes and cyclones for the very first time. Ever since then we believe that people are confused about the two terms and asking the question: What is the difference between a twister and a tornado?

They are basically the same.  Two different names are given to one natural phenomenon. Tornado “is a violent rotating column of air extending from a thunderstorm to the ground.” Tornadoes basically lift up everything that comes in their way.

Tornadoes are often referred to as twisters- the name gives reference to its spinning whirling nature as it swirls up in the air and becomes destructive if combined with other natural striking disasters like thunderstorms or cyclones.

How are tornadoes formed?

Tornadoes are usually formed by cumulonimbus or cumulus clouds, which create storms. Twister is a slang word used for tornado. It is a twisting vortex of air, which can be destructive and damaging if it goes to its full might.

The speed of air ranges in between 40 mph to a whopping 200 mph depending upon the gravity of the storm. The violently whirling column of air has affected almost all the continents of the world except Antarctica. It is more commonly found in the plains of the United States of America. Tornadoes stretching on the waters of the oceans are termed as waterspouts.

Dorothy landed in the land of OZ because of a tornado:

Tornadoes or twisters are a favorite subject of filmmakers since time immemorial. There have been countless movies made on this subject and still it remains an interesting topic for the cinema-goers. The famous 1939 movie The Wizard of Oz was based on the notation of a tornado whirling Dorothy up from her home in Kansas and landing her in a strange land of OZ.

Hollywood’s romance with twisters and tornadoes is never ending!!!

Lifecycle of tornadoes

Usually, a tornado is formed within minutes and dissipates quickly as well but in some terrifying situations they can last for hours.

Let’s have a look at the lifecycle of a tornado or twister:

  • Supercell: Tornadoes are usually formed as a result of funnel clouds in the beginning of thunderstorms. They are called supercells which contain a vortex of air inside them.
  • Tornado forming: The cumulus cloud generates a mesocyclone, which squeezes in the moist air from the region where the storm is heading. The warm air is trapped within a cool air of downdraft; resulting in a rotating formulation being formed which will eventually result into a funnel from ground till the cloud in the sky.
  • Maturity: This is the stage where a tornado matures with each passing second. This is the stage where it is most disastrous and can critically damage anything that comes in its way.
  • Dissipation: This stage is where the air supply is choked over making the tornado weak. It gradually becomes thin and more like a rope. These are the last stages of a tornado and it diminishes into the air just where it came from.


Usually when a powerful storm gives birth to multiple tornadoes; it is called anOutbreak.” This can be very devastating for the people of that particular region who witness various tornadoes in a year – one after another.

One such example of an outbreak in recent years is of Hurricane Katrina. It was one of the most powerful hurricanes to hit the US recently. It was so powerful that it generated multiple series of these outbreaks of tornadoes. Hurricane Katrina created tornadoes to the far north of Pennsylvania in the mid-Atlantic region to the east coasts of Florida. One of the tornadoes critically damaged an airplane hangar in the Florida Keys.

Tornadoes are one of the most amazing and destructive natural phenomena witnessed. People don’t generally believe how powerful tornadoes are, until they get to experience one. The astounding force of whirling wind that can go up to 300 miles per hour and can have a mass diameter of 2.5 miles is just nerve-wrecking.  These whirling vortexes of air, water and debris cause severe damages to everything on their path where people live or earn a livelihood. One of the most sought after dreams of a scientist is to capture a tornado as they are a powerhouse of nature but last for a very short time.

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