Hurricanes form over the water and can be hundreds of miles wide while tornados usually form over the land and are rarely more than a quarter mile wide. A tornado might only last a few minutes, while hurricanes can persist for weeks.
A hurricane can strengthen and weaken multiple times throughout its life cycle. Atlantic Basin hurricanes can start out as tropical depressions or tropical storms before strengthening to a category on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale.
Hurricanes usually reach maximum strength just before making landfall. Since they are powered by warm, moist air over ocean waters, hurricanes quickly lose strength once they’re above land. However, it’s not unheard of for a hurricane to pass over land, return to the ocean, restrengthen and potentially make landfall a second or even third time.
For example, Hurricane Isbell in 1964 formed in the Caribbean and first made landfall on the western tip of Cuba. It continued traveling northeast and made landfall near Everglade City in Florida as a Category 2 hurricane. It traveled over the state, weakened and exited near West Palm Beach. It then traveled north through the Atlantic and swung west to make landfall again near Morehead City in North Carolina.
The next year Hurricane Betsy came west from the Atlantic and made landfall in Key Largo. It quickly moved west into the Gulf of Mexico, swung north, strengthened to a Category 4 and made landfall near New Orleans. The remnants of the storm traveled northeast through the country, dropping rain on Mississippi, Arkansas, Ohio and Pennsylvania.
Hurricane Jeanne in 2004 first made landfall in Puerto Rico, traveled north into the Atlantic and then moved west into Florida. The hurricane spent a lot of time in Florida, making landfall in the same area hit by Hurricane Frances just a few weeks earlier. Hurricane Jeanne weakened into a tropical storm and then a depression as it moved over Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia before exiting back into the Atlantic through Washington, D.C.
Tornados, on the other hand, are entirely localized events. The longest traveling tornado in recorded history was a 1925 tornado that started in Missouri and traveled all the way east to Indiana before dying out. That tornado was also one of the deadliest, claiming the lives of 695 people.
Mesocyclones, which are essentially rotating wind miles up in the atmosphere, exist in thunderstorms known as supercells. Rainfall from these storms pulls the air down in a “rear flank downdraft”, bringing the mesocyclone winds down with it. Once the mesocyclone is below the cloud base it pulls in moist air from the downdraft, which combines with the warm air in an updraft to create a rotating wall of clouds.
Hurricanes also start as thunderstorms that suck the warm, moist air near the ocean’s surface into the atmosphere. As the warm air rises from the ocean surface it cools and condenses into water droplets, releasing energy and feeding the thunderstorm. Convective cells are created when those water droplets fall back to earth to continue the cycle. The winds generated by pressure and temperature differentials rotate due to the Coriolis effect.
There are a lot of similarities in how tornados and hurricanes rotate, but unlike tornados, hurricanes have a huge fuel supply in the form of warm, moist air over the ocean’s surface.
Yes – hurricanes frequently toss out tornados when they’re over land. The thunderclouds that are vital to tornado formation are in abundance when a hurricane or tropical storm makes landfall. What usually happens is:
The atmospheric conditions that accompany hurricanes are already conducive to tornado creation. When you add in the effects of hurricane wind shear, tornados are essentially inevitable.
Even if your Florida home isn’t in the direct path of a hurricane, you could still suffer its effects in the form of tornadoes. Tornadoes spawned by hurricanes can form hundreds of miles away from where a hurricane made landfall, so be sure to heed local tornado warnings.
You should also review your homeowners insurance policy to ensure that if your home does suffer wind damage from a tornado or hurricane that you will be covered. Insurance companies in Florida are frequently inundated with claims when hurricanes hit the state. Overwhelmed claims adjusters can make mistakes and are often incentivized to deny or undervalue claims.
If you find yourself in a situation where the insurance company is denying a legitimate wind claim, you may want to consider speaking with a property damage attorney.