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10 Tornado Shapes and Sizes You Should Know

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The approaching peak of tornado season means an increase in reports of potentially deadly weather events. While all tornadoes pose a significant risk, meteorologists have classified them into 10 distinct categories based on their shape and size.

Rope Tornado

The smallest type of tornado is known as a rope tornado, named for its long and slender shape. Although these tornadoes are usually short-lived, they can evolve into larger and more dangerous twisters. Due to their narrow shape, the zone of damage caused by rope tornadoes is typically less severe.

Wedge Tornado

On the opposite end of the spectrum is the wedge tornado, which can expand to over a mile in diameter. It comes as no surprise that tornadoes of this size carry significant risks.

Notably, the 2013 El Reno, Oklahoma tornado grew to a staggering 2.6 miles in diameter, and the wedge tornado responsible for the devastating destruction in Joplin, Missouri in May 2011 caused 158 fatalities and over 1,000 injuries.

Cone Tornado

The cone tornado falls between the size of a rope tornado and a wedge tornado. It is perhaps the most recognizable shape to casual observers. The cone tornado widens at the top and narrows as it extends down to the ground.

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Stovetop Tornado

Closely related to the cone tornado is the stovetop tornado. Stovetop tornadoes are similar in size to cone tornadoes, but they don't narrow as they approach the ground. This larger bottom section increases the potential for more severe destruction due to its greater coverage.

Elephant Trunk Tornado

The elephant trunk tornado derives its name from its appearance, which resembles the trunk of an elephant. Unlike most tornadoes that are vertical in shape, the elephant trunk twister curves upward. In terms of size, it is typically similar to cone and stovetop tornadoes.

Multi-vortex Tornado

One of the most fascinating characteristics of tornadoes is the ability to have multiple areas of rotation within a primary funnel. This phenomenon is more common in larger twisters that provide enough space for the development of these additional rotation areas.

While it may be challenging to spot these separate vortexes during the storm, their presence becomes evident in the aftermath.

Satellite Tornado

A satellite tornado is closely related to a multi-vortex tornado. It is inherently dangerous as it supports smaller tornadoes that spin up around the main circulation area. Distinguishing between a multi-vortex and a satellite tornado can be difficult since both exhibit different areas of circulation within the same general region.

Twin Tornadoes

Twin tornadoes refer to two separate twisters that form side by side. Unlike multi-vortex or satellite tornadoes, twin twisters originate from different circulation zones. This occurrence is extremely rare.


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