from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 5th Edition.

  • noun A violently rotating column of air extending from a cumulonimbus cloud to the ground, ranging in width from a few meters to more than a kilometer, with destructive winds up to 510 kilometers (316 miles) per hour or higher. Tornadoes are typically associated with a funnel cloud pendant from a storm's wall cloud, often extending to the bottom of the tornado.
  • noun A violent thunderstorm in western Africa or nearby Atlantic waters.
  • noun A whirlwind or hurricane.

from The Century Dictionary.

  • noun A violent squall or whirlwind of small extent.
  • noun Specifically— On the west coast of Africa, from Cape Verd to the equator, a squall of great intensity and of short duration, occurring during the summer months, but most frequently and with greatest violence at the beginning and end of the rainy season. On the western part of the coast, near Sierra Leone, these squalls come from easterly points, and blow off shore; while on the eastern part of the coast, near the mouth of the Niger, they occasionally blow on shore, partly because of a variation in the direction of the squall, and partly because of a different trend of the coast. The squall is marked by peculiar, dense, arched masses of dark cloud, furious gusts of wind, vivid lightning, deafening thunder, and torrents of rain; it produces a slight rise in the barometer and a fall of temperature amounting on the average to 9° Fahr. Similar squalls in other tropical regions are usually known by the name of arched squalls, but are sometimes also called tornadoes. The principal period when these squalls occur (namely, at the change of the seasons or of the monsoons) is that in which great quantities of vapor-laden air are stopped by a land wind, and accumulate near the coast, producing a hot, sultry, unstable state of the atmosphere. The tornado is the overturning process by which the atmosphere regains its stability. The wind ordinarily turns through two or three points during its progress, but in general a complete cyclonic motion is not established.
  • noun In the United States, east of the 100th meridian, a whirlwind of small radius and of highly destructive violence, usually seen as a whirling funnel pendent from a mass of black cloud, occurring most frequently in the southeast quadrant of an area of low pressure several hundred miles from its center, and having a rapid progressive movement, generally toward the northeast. The principal condition precedent to the formation of a tornado, just as for a thunder-storm, is an unstable state of the atmosphere. In the tornado a whirling motion from right to left, of tremendous energy, is generated in a mass of clouds, and is often maintained for several hours, while in the ordinary thunder-storm a complete cyclonic motion probably seldom becomes established. Tornadoes generally arise just after the hottest part of the day, when the atmosphere has its maximum instability; the months of greatest frequency are April, May, June, and July. The destruction in a tornado may be caused either by the surface wind which is forced in on all sides to feed the ascending current of the tornado-funnel, or by the gyrating winds of the funnel itself when sufficiently low to come within the reach of buildings; in the latter case no structure, however strongly built, is apparently able to withstand the wind's enormous force.

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English.

  • noun A violent whirling wind; specifically (Meteorol.), a tempest distinguished by a rapid whirling and slow progressive motion, usually accompaned with severe thunder, lightning, and torrents of rain, and commonly of short duration and small breadth; a small cyclone.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License.

  • noun A rolled pork roast.
  • noun meteorology A violent windstorm characterized by a twisting, funnel-shaped cloud.

from WordNet 3.0 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University. All rights reserved.

  • noun a localized and violently destructive windstorm occurring over land characterized by a funnel-shaped cloud extending toward the ground
  • noun a purified and potent form of cocaine that is smoked rather than snorted; highly addictive


from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

[Alteration (probably influenced by Spanish tornado, turned, past participle of tornar, to turn) of Early Modern English ternado, violent thunderstorm, hurricane from Spanish tronada, thunderstorm, from tronar, to thunder, from Latin tonāre; see (s)tenə- in Indo-European roots.]

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

From Spanish tronada (thunderstorm), from tronar (to thunder), from Latin tonare (to thunder), from Proto-Indo-European *(s)tene- (to thunder). The 'o' and 'r' were reversed in English (metathesis) under influence of Spanish tornar (to twist, to turn), from Latin tornare (to turn).


Help support Wordnik (and make this page ad-free) by adopting the word tornado.


  • By contrast, before 1950 the use of the term tornado in forecasts was discouraged because of a fear that predicting them would cause panic.

    The Seattle Times 2011

  • By contrast, before 1950 the use of the term tornado in forecasts was discouraged because of a fear that predicting them would cause panic.

    The Full Feed from The Huffington Post News Editors 2011

  • No field forecasters dared use the word tornado for fear of inciting not just panic but their supervisors.

    Storm Warning Nancy Mathis 2007

  • The U.S. Weather Bureau had banned the word tornado from its forecasts and warnings a half-century earlier—no need to frighten people.

    Storm Warning Nancy Mathis 2007

  • In 1938, as fatalities rose, the Weather Bureau lifted its ban on the use of the word tornado but mainly in its alerts to emergency personnel, not to the public.

    Storm Warning Nancy Mathis 2007

  • The agency that had been reluctant for decades even to mention the word tornado out of concern for public panic was now trying to create as much fear as possible—so that people would take some steps to protect themselves.

    Storm Warning Nancy Mathis 2007

  • In 1887, nervous superiors sent him new instructions: the word tornado was banned from his forecasts.

    Storm Warning Nancy Mathis 2007

  • The data we are collecting will hopefully allow engineers to construct more sound structures to prevent massive damage and we hope to create an effective warning system which will warn residents if a tornado is about to hit their area.

    Interview with tornado chaser Reed Timmer Jason Samenow 2010

  • The red box you can see outlined there is what we call a tornado watch.

    CNN Transcript Mar 15, 2008 2008

  • SEGUI: Tell me what your thoughts were when you saw the tornado, what you call a tornado up on the horizon.

    CNN Transcript Feb 6, 2008 2008


Log in or sign up to get involved in the conversation. It's quick and easy.

  • Zorro. See A Horse is a Horse

    February 1, 2008

  • The Vultee XP-68. More on Wikipedia.

    December 30, 2008