From Glossary of Meteorology


A rapidly rotating column of air extending vertically from the surface to the base of a cumuliform cloud, often with near-surface circulating debris/dust when over land or spray when over water. Although its presence is not required, a funnel cloud is often visible and may partly or fully extend from the cloud base to the ground.

Characteristics of typical tornadoes include a diameter of 2 km or less, with maximum wind velocity differences across the circulation exceeding 40 m s−1 within 200 m of the surface. Tornadoes typically last on the order of 100–1000 s. Some may be comprised of multiple subvortices with spatial scales as small as tens of meters, rotating around a central axis. Tornadoes rated by the enhanced Fujita (EF) scale have wind gusts at 10 m above the surface equaling or exceeding 29 m s−1 (65 mph; the lower bound of EF-0).

Tornadoes that occur over water are classified as waterspouts. Landspouts are a subset of tornadoes that occur independent of a parent mesocyclone. Gustnadoes are not considered tornadoes since they are shallow and short-lived vortices that are usually weak. Dust devils are not considered tornadoes since they are not associated with cumuliform clouds.

Term edited 2 November 2020.