Difference Between Funnel Cloud and Tornado (With Table)

It seems as if natural calamities have now become a part of human existence, striking countries, states, or any other part of the earth. Natural disasters bring destruction to the planet and humans as well, and no power in the universe can stop it from happening. Therefore, it is necessary to understand them so you can be cautious when it happens. Phenomenons that occur most frequently are thunderstorms, tsunami, and earthquakes. Here, two of the very common thunderstorms are distinguished, i.e. Funnel Cloud and Tornado.

Funnel Cloud vs Tornado

The difference between Funnel clouds and Tornadoes is that they vary in density. Funnel clouds are denser and form a distinctive funnel-like shape, thus named so. Tornado, on the other hand, is lighter and looks like a fast-running vortex. Funnel clouds barely touch the surface of the ground, and when they do, they convert themselves into a tornado.

Funnel cloud gets the name from its shape. Funnel clouds are funnel-shaped vortexes of heavy water vapours with air spinning at higher speeds. Funnel clouds can form under the rain clouds if it has sufficient vorticity and humidity in the air. There are two types of funnel clouds, namely landspouts and waterspouts, which can reach the ground but are usually weak to cause any harm. 

A tornado is a sharp rotating column of air that can reach the ground. Tornadoes form in the case of thick clouds or, rare cases, cumulus clouds. Tornado is also a type of funnel cloud but is lighter in weight and has better vorticity to move even faster than other funnel clouds. Tornados are much easily visible because they travel along with the greyish, dark sky.  

Comparison Table Between Funnel Cloud and Tornado 

Parameters of Comparison Funnel Cloud Tornado 
ShapeThe funnel cloud appears to look like a cone-shaped or funnel-shaped column of air that rotates at a medium pace in the sky. Torneos is a long cylindrical column of air or pillars or wedges that moves faster than the funnel cloud in the sky as well as on the ground.   
Composition Funnel clouds comprise condensed water vapour. A tornado is formed by a cluster of water droplets, dust, debris, and other particles from the ground. 
TypesThere are various types of funnel clouds, namely Cold air columns, waterspouts, and landspouts.Some of the most popular tornado types are known as Landspout, waterspout, multiple vortex tornado. 
Velocity Funnel clouds are weak thunderstorms that last only a few seconds and can travel at a speed of less than 40mph. A tornado is powerful when it hits the earth’s surface and can run with a speed between 50mph to 360mph. 
OccurrenceFunnel clouds wind occur around the mountain regions when comes in contact with cumulus clouds. A tornado is a combination of wind that occurs when moist and hot air meets dry and cold air, and together, they make a cluster of air mass that causes instability in the atmosphere. 

 What is Funnel Cloud?

Funnel clouds are also known as “Tuba“. These are the spinning vortex of clouds that travels towards the ground but never reach the ground. These clouds are very distinct in their shape- they are sharp cone-shaped clouds. 

Funnel clouds are formed in places with low pressure; thus, they can easily combine with condensed water droplets and form a thick mass of air around the cloud or at the base of the cloud. 

Weather with cumulonimbus clouds is also associated with a funnel cloud. They are the potential host for forming funnel clouds. In other words, whenever there will be a funnel cloud, heavy rain, lightning, thunder is always expected. And, if in any care the tuba gets in contact with the earth’s surface, it might turn into a tornado, and the nearby regions could be at risk of damage. 

These funnel clouds, when formed over large water bodies like the ocean, turn into waterspouts and cause severe instability in the water bodies as well.  

The formation of funnel clouds depends on the overall condition of the atmosphere. If the air is less humid and dry, the chances of the formation of a condensation funnel are very less, whereas if the air is moist and has cold conditions, you would see an intense funnel cloud formation.  

Funnel clouds can travel up to a speed of 40mph to 45mph and stay in the sky for a few seconds o a few minutes. 

What is Tornado? 

Tornado has different names in different countries but the most often used names are “cyclone“, “twister”, “whirlwind”. They make contact with the ground and swirl around the surface while carrying water droplets, dust particles, debris, and other light components along with them in the atmosphere. 

A tornado is also referred to as a funnel cloud when the funnel cloud touches the surface of the earth. Tornadoes are strong columns of air that rotate along the vertical axis and are visible with a naked eye. 

The major reason for the formation of a tornado is wind shear. Wind shear is nothing but changes in the direction, height, and speed of the wind, and when it happens, it creates a horizontal spinning effect around the clouds. Typically, such kind of wind is formed when the hot air and cold, dry air combine. 

Tornadoes occur in several places, but their keen place is in the United States. The USA has the highest number of tornado occurrences in a year than any other country in the world. Interestingly, there’s an area in the United States where the concentration of tornadoes is the strongest and thus named “Tornado Alley”. 

Tornado travels at a speed of 500km/h in the peripheral areas thus, has the potential to cause serious damage in the vicinity. A tornado lasts for a few minutes to more than half n hour. 

Main Differences Between Funnel Cloud and Tornado 

  1. A funnel cloud is a rotating column of air that does not reach the ground, while a tornado is also a rotating column of air but capable of touching the ground.
  2. Funnel clouds have less travelling speed, whereas tornadoes have high travelling speeds.
  3. Funnel clouds are formed by heavy condensed water droplets. A tornado is formed with a combination of water droplets, debris, and dust. 
  4. Funnel clouds travel in the vertical axis, whereas tornadoes can travel in both the axis.
  5. Funnel clouds make thunder sound like a jet engine, while tornadoes have more like a roaring sound. 

Conclusion

A funnel cloud becomes a tornado when it touches the ground. Until it’s aloft and significantly above the below, it remains as a funnel cloud. Both are similar in certain ways but distinctive in terms of shape, size, composition, and speed. Hence, they cannot be confused and can be easily comprehended by the naked eye.

Funnel clouds and tornadoes both are such kinds of natural phenomenon that occurs once or twice in a year in any state or country in the world. The degree of damage funnel clouds can do are minimum, whereas the degree of damage in the case of a tornado is very high and has the potential to destroy everything that comes in its way. 

References

  1. https://journals.ametsoc.org/view/journals/mwre/99/11/1520-0493_1971_099_0877_sofcoa_2_3_co_2.xml
  2. http://www.nativeamericanembassy.net/TREATIES/digital.library.okstate.edu/OAS/oas_pdf/v58/p81_86.pdf

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