ASK TOM: Are the winds in a tornado faster than in a hurricane?

Dear Tom,

Are the winds in a tornado faster than in a hurricane?

Jin Larson, age 6


Dear Jin,
When considering both storms’ peak intensities, tornadoes have higher wind speeds. Mobile Doppler radars such as the University of Oklahoma’s Doppler on Wheels have remotely sensed tornado wind speeds above ground level as high as about 302 mph (on May 3, 1999, in an F-5 twister near Bridge Creek, Okla.). It’s the highest winds ever measured by any means near the Earth’s surface. For hurricanes, while there is no upper limit to the top Category 5 hurricane intensity level on the Saffir-Simpson scale which that begins at 156 mph, the strongest sustained winds in tropical cyclones seem to peak around 200 mph. The highest recorded wind gust in a tropical cyclone was 253 mph in Cyclone Olivia, which hit Barrow Island off Western Australia on April 10, 1996.