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These Different Types of Tornadoes Will Make Your Head Swirl

Different Types of Tornadoes
A tornado is a rotating air storm often known for its destructive nature. However, the destruction depends on the type of tornado and its intensity. Let's find out how.
Bidisha Mukherjee
Last Updated: Feb 21, 2018
Did You Know?
Supercells are not classified as tornadoes. They are in fact thunderstorms that often give rise to some of the most intense tornadoes.
A tornado is characterized by a vertical column of air, with its narrow end touching the Earth's surface and the other end is in contact with the dense heavy clouds. It is often difficult to spot a tornado unless it forms a fiercely rotating column of air comprising significant amount of dust and debris.

On an average, the traveling speed of a tornado is 110 miles/hour for a short distance, before dissipating. The more intense tornadoes travel for longer distances - often more than 20 miles before dispelling. The types of tornadoes have long been a topic of serious debate; the more acceptable of the lot are explained in this article.
Tornado Types
This non-supercell tornado forms a funnel-shaped cloud connected to a cumuliform cloud, always forming over water. A waterspout is not a destructive tornado and stretches over less than 2 km. They often develop in moist environment, and hence the water present in the funnel cloud of this tornado is a result of condensation taking place in the moist environment, and is not the water on which it develops. In extremely rare cases, a waterspout forms from a supercell thunderstorm.
Non-tornadic Waterspout:
The most common type of waterspouts are of the non-tornadic kind and do not develop from a supercell thunderstorm. These waterspouts often dissipate within 15 to 20 minutes from the time they are formed. Also called fair-weather waterspouts, the non-tornadic waterspouts feature very low on the Enhanced Fujita scale, often EF0.
Tornadic Waterspout
Tornadic waterspouts are the ones forming over water and exhibiting similar patterns to the tornadoes forming on land. This type is not very common even if the tornadoes forming on land and later entering water are included.
The word gustnado is a combination of 'gust front tornado'. It is not an official term and has yet to be accepted by meteorologists globally. A gustnado is a short-lived whirl of dust and debris lasting from a few seconds to minutes. These tornadoes does not possess a condensation funnel do not always connect the surface to the base of the closest cloud base. Hence, whether to classify them as a tornado is still debated upon by various meteorologists.
Fire Tornadoes
Depending on temperature conditions and air currents, a fire acquires tornado-like characteristics of vertical rotating air column. The most intense fire whirls are formed from wildfires and are 10-50 m in height. The large whirls can last for more than 15 minutes and are destructive in nature. Fire tornadoes are frequently formed in hilly region where the air is sheltered from the wind.
Multi-vortex Tornado
A tornado is termed as multiple-vortex when it has more than one vortex rotating around the main vortex. Here, the other vortices rotate around the axes; the vortices themselves rotate in the peripheral region of the eye of the tornado.
A landspout is similar to waterspout, only difference being that it is formed on land. This type of tornado has an extremely narrow funnel resembling a rope and is formed in the initial stage of thunderstorm formation, where the spinning movement is developed close to the surface of the ground. The National Weather Service has termed this type as 'dust-tube tornadoes'. Landspouts are generally formed in dry areas and possess overall same mechanism as that of a waterspout.
Tornadoes such as gustnado and fire-tornadoes are also termed as cousins of tornadoes and sometimes not categorized as true tornadoes. Nonetheless, they are commonly observed and can prove to be harmful.
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