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Last updated date: 23rd May 2024
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Introduction to Whirlwind

A rapid round and round movement of a column of air in a cylindrical or funnel shape are called a Whirlwind. The movement is continuous and the intensity of the wind whirl increases over the duration if weather conditions are unfavourable. The whirlwind of activity is very impulsive and can drastically change overnight. A windwhirl can also be a violent or destructive force or agency that is accompanied by a loud roaring noise.

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Features of a Whirlwind 

  1. The columnar vortex of rapidly swirling air has a small diameter.

  2. The whirlwinds happen more often than one may assume in the form of small eddies.

  3. Not every wind whirl can be applied to the atmospheric vortex rather they are due to sand, dust, hay, leaves, snow etc.

  4. Some whirlwinds cause more turbulence and their features are more prominent in the atmosphere and the effects can be extreme.   

  5. The atmospheric pressure at the centre of the whirlwind is relatively lesser.

  6. Usually, the axis of rotation of the whirlwind is vertical and in some portions of the wind whirl, it can even be inclined. 

  7. The rotational direction of the whirlwind which is smaller can be both clockwise and counterclockwise.

  8. The wind and outside forces and agencies direct the direction of the rotation in case of larger or major whirlwinds. 

Types of Whirlwind 

All the types of whirlwind reach the ground and it can occur in open landscapes or even in cities with skyscrapers. There are two types of the whirlwind and it is divided as the greater or major whirlwinds and the lesser or the minor windwhirl.  The criteria for division of them is based on the formation, speed and intensity of the wind during the windwhirl. 

  1. Major Whirlwind-  The atmospheric vortex of the swirling air can constitute a continuum and are indefinite and easily identifiable. It includes;

    1. Waterspouts - The columnar vortex in this case occurs over a water body like the oceans.  

    2. Tornadoes - It is also called a cyclone or twister. It also has similar features like a whirlwind. The volume of air in case of a tornado rotates violently and is in contact with both the ground that is the earth surface and the cloud in a cumulonimbus form which is basically a dense cloud that is towering vertically downwards. 

    3. Landspouts - Forms during the growth stage of the tornado in a cumulus congestus cloud and a swirl of air rise vertically like a whirlwind. 

The formation of a major whirlwind is when the funnel forming from the cloud is clearly visible when the storm starts to spin in combination with the high altitude winds. It lasts for many many hours and interrupting such a larger whirlwind is very difficult. Supercell thunderstorms and other powerful storms are seen prior to a major whirlwind.

  1. Minor Whirlwind - Formation of the minor whirlwind occurs when local winds start to spin on the ground causing a funnel to form and pick up snow, dust and other debris that makes a visible swirl like a whirlwind. It lasts for mere minutes and when it encounters a building it can be easily interrupted and thus stops. The minor whirlwinds are dust devils that can travel even from areas that are far across. Small, semi-powerful "wind blasts" are seen prior to such minor whirlwinds.

Safety During Major and Minor Whirlwinds

Even though minor whirlwinds are less dangerous and do not create more havoc than the larger major ones. But due to dust devils, a kind of minor whirlwind many deaths have been reported due to it so one must ensure safety during all times when there is a probability of a whirlwind. Since prior to the whirlwinds weather conditions indicate its arrival we can prepare for our safety.

  1.  Going to a room with no windows like the basement or any rooms on the lowest floor, even a bathroom, closet, or the centre hallway will be a safe place.

  2. Cover your body with a blanket, mattress or a sleeping bag and if possible hide under any sturdy surface below the desk or a bed.

  3. Ensure to keep an emergency kit that should include water, medication, over the counter drugs,  non-perishable food at your disposal.

  4. Be ready to evacuate if the situation is out of hand one must displace.

  5. Do not stay put in a vehicle when you are warned of the danger.

  6. Always stay updated about the weather conditions which is the most important step to be prepared for the above-mentioned steps. 


Whirlwinds are a natural phenomenon of the earth due to atmospheric changes but when the condition is extreme it becomes dangerous and one must prepare to defend themselves in such situations. Being prepared for any emergencies and having a place to hide out and stay away from the possibility of a major whirlwind and even the minor one can with time become a critical reason for survival. Ensure the safety of your family members and all the ones around you. 

FAQs on Whirlwind

1. Are Whirlwinds Deadly and Dangerous?

Ans. When there are thunderstorms that can lead to major whirling thunderstorms and larger whirlwinds, it can be very dangerous and can kill many at once. The tornadoes are another deadly whirlwind. If you are being warned of a possibility of a whirlwind, even if it is a minor one does not take any chances and get your mobile phones charged so you can reach for help, when there is a need and always prepare an emergency kit and follow all the safety precautions suggested by the CDC (Centers For Disease Control And Prevention).

2. How Many Kinds of Whirlwinds Occur in Nature?

Ans. There are two types of whirlwinds the major whirlwinds like the tornadoes, landspouts and waterspouts. They are powerful and dangerous and can cause extreme destruction. The other type is the minor windwhirl and dust devil among them is the most powerful.

3. When Will the Whirlwind Stop?

Ans. The major whirlwind is the larger ones that last for a long time destroying everything that comes in the way and is difficult to stop this kind of interruption. Whereas the lesser whirlwind also called the minor whirlwind lasts for a short period of time depending on the extreme weather conditions, it can even last for a longer time. In such times, it is important to be updated about the weather reports of your area.