Are There Differences Between A Twister And A Tornado?

At some point in your life, you have most likely heard reporters or weather forecasters refer to tornadoes as twisters or vice versa, right? Well, if this is the case, you’ve also probably thought to yourself – well, what’s the difference between a twister and a tornado?

Are There Differences Between A Twister And A Tornado?

To tell you the truth, there is no difference between the two – they are exactly the same thing. A twister is just the slang term for a tornado, and in many ways, a twister is a more common term.

I’ve written this guide to try to clear up any misunderstandings and confusion about twisters and tornadoes. So, keep reading to learn more about these extreme weather events!

What Are Twisters And Tornadoes?

Whatever term you wish to use to describe them, these are vortexes that twist at an extremely rapid speed. Due to the unstable pressures in the air caused by an impact of both cold and warm air masses – we end up with the finished product of a tornado.

Generally, as one of these twisters or tornados makes it to ground, it picks up speed and gets much stronger as it travels across the ground areas. The spinning air sucks up dirt and other debris – and pretty much anything else that it finds in its path.

This is the reason why tornadoes are so easy to see when they’re traveling. As you tend to see the objects within them first before anything else. Although rain-wrapped tornadoes are an exception to this rule (also see ‘What Are Rain-Wrapped Tornadoes And Why Are They So Dangerous?‘).

Types Of Tornadoes

There are several different types of tornadoes that you might not be aware of. Below are the most common types of tornadoes with their explanations.

Rope Tornado

Certainly, the most common type of tornado is the rope tornado, and whilst being the most common, it is also the smallest of its kind. As you can probably guess by its name, it is shaped like a long rope.

Most other tornadoes will start their lives out as a sort of form of a rope tornado and then over time, they will grow and become larger. In some cases, they will remain as rope tornados and dissipate eventually.

However, if a rope tornado does keep its shape for the entirety of its life – then it will not normally last especially long. Having said that, it’s still important to remember that if you see one, you should get to safety immediately as they are still dangerous.

Cone Tornado

Again, as you can probably tell by its name – a cone tornado is named for its shape. It’s the type of tornado that you might have seen in images affecting the great American plains.

Due to its much wider size and larger path, it is considered much more dangerous than a rope tornado. A cone tornado that has a more cylindrical shape is known as a stovepipe tornado (also see ‘What Are Stovepipe Tornadoes And How Dangerous Are They?‘).

Wedge Tornado

These types of tornadoes are largely considered to be the most dangerous types of tornado out there. It normally has a much larger height and a much larger height than other tornados. Also see ‘What Is A Wedge Tornado And How Is It Unique?‘.

Due to such a large path that it can create, it is one of the most destructive types of tornado you could imagine and the width can go on for miles.

Multi-Vortex Tornado

Multi-vortex tornadoes, often known as satellite tornadoes, create numerous tornadoes in one place at one time. It’s due to the strong circulation of the air that causes a much larger formation of each tornado.

Once again, this type of tornado is very dangerous and in any situation, you should avoid getting anywhere near it.

Waterspouts And Landspouts

These types of tornadoes can occur when there is no thunderstorm present, but nonetheless, they are very dangerous. Waterspouts arguably are more dangerous due to the fact that they can cause danger to fishermen and other vessels on the water.

Bizarrely, waterspouts are not recorded in the records of tornadoes – but landspouts are.

These occur when the conditions allow for a small sized vortex, but once again, don’t let the size fool you. They are still dangerous and will damage anything in their path.

Storms That Are Confused With Twisters

Storms That Are Confused With Twisters

There are plenty of storms that are often confused with twisters or tornadoes. Below, I’m going to examine what some of the most confused types of storms are with twisters and tornadoes.


Understandably, people often lump in cyclones with twisters or tornadoes. It’s largely due to the name (see also ‘Cyclone And Tornado – What’s The Difference?‘). However, a cyclone is simply a tropical storm that occurs over the South Pacific and Indian Oceans.


Hurricanes are also tropical storms, but these occur in the North Atlantic or Northeast Pacific Oceans. It’s also understandable why these could be confused with twisters due to their power and destruction.


A tsunami is a result of a volcanic eruption or an earthquake that occurs under the ocean, which leads to massive waves and accompanying damage. One of the worst of these occurred in Japan.

I must note here that such confusion over hurricanes etc is largely due to their size. Twisters only have a short diameter for example, whereas hurricanes’ diameter is much larger.

On top of this, the duration is different because hurricanes can, in some cases, last for weeks. However, twisters only last minutes – or at most an hour.

Safety Considerations

When it comes to being near a twister or tornado, there are several safety considerations that you must take into consideration.

Protect The Windows

Hopefully, you’ve got some form of protection for your window’s glass. If you do not, then you should consider buying some shutters or similar. The reason for this is that twisters can easily damage your windows.

This might be directly, or due to throwing debris around which hits your windows. Once this occurs, it might not be a case of simply purchasing another window – your home’s interior might now be ruined, and worse could occur.

Broken windows mean broken glass, and when this starts to move, you’ve essentially got a dangerous, sharp object near you and your family. So, be sure to cover your windows and have this nearby throughout the year.

Head For The Basement

While there is not exactly a perfect place to be during a tornado, your best bet is to head to the basement and stay as low as possible. Ideally, your basement will not have windows – but if it does, be sure to cover them too.

First Aid Kit

It’s always a good idea to have a first aid kit nearby and in easy reach during any sort of emergency like this. Generally, you should have a few throughout your home – but having one in, for example, the basement, will be gold for you.

Remember, if you’re injured, a first aid kit can be helpful not only for “repairing” your damage but also for protecting yourself from infection. During a tornado, debris and dust can move easily which can quickly cause infection if it gets into your wound.


While a tornado shouldn’t last too long. You should have some form of distraction nearby for your kids or pets, as they can easily become frightened by the sounds and damage.

Consider having a box in your chosen safe area that has something quick to dig out.

Don’t Forget Your Yard

If you know that there is a tornado heading your way put any loose objects from your yard into your garage if possible.

The fewer objects you have in your yard during this time is going to be better for you. Of course though, if you do not have the time – you should always focus your attention on you and your family’s safety first and foremost.

Final Thoughts

It’s easy to understand why tornadoes and twisters could be thought of as different, but they are exactly the same thing. However, it’s important to differentiate between these and storms like hurricanes and cyclones, etc.

Want a peaceful life in a state that’s unlikely to see a tornado come your way? See my other article What States Have No Tornadoes or Hurricanes

Andrew Capper