Difference Between a Tornado and Downburst

What is a Tornado?

According to the Glossary of Meteorology (AMS 2000), A tornado is "a violently rotating column of air, pendant from a cumuliform cloud or underneath a cumuliform cloud, and often (but not always) visible as a funnel cloud."

In order for a vortex to be classified as a tornado, it must be in contact with the ground and the cloud base.


What is a Downburst?

A small area of rapidly descending air beneath a thunderstorm which can cause damaging winds in excess of 100MPH. A downburst can cause more damage over a larger area than a weak tornado (EF0, EF1). The strong winds usually approach from one direction and are known as straight-line winds. Because of the strength of the winds and the resulting damage, the destruction caused by a downburst is sometimes mistaken for tornado damage.


Downbursts are often classified into one of two categories.

Macroburst - is a downburst (strong downdraft or gust of damaging wind) which produces a swath of damage that is (4km) 2.5 miles wide or greater.

Microburst - is a downburst which produces a swath of damage less than 2.5 miles wide.


Return to News Archive

USA.gov is the U.S. government's official web portal to all federal, state and local government web resources and services.