The game is themed around a rampaging tornado, which the player ultimately must guide to their area by shooting certain shots. Along the way, you'll collect Skyway Tolls (eventually paying them off entirely), raise the atmospheric pressure, and visit the cellar for random awards. Hitting the proper targets to direct the storm will enable the ball locks; lock two balls, then unleash The Power of the multiball.
The game is rather notable for two of its gadgets: spinning discs on the playfield that screw with the ball's travel, and a fan on the top of the backbox that blows at the player. Both activate when a lock is lit and during multiball.
Digital versions of Whirlwind (without the fan) are available for Pinball Hall of Fame: The Williams Collection and (formerly) The Pinball Arcade. The latter case is no longer true, however, as the license for all Williams and Bally tables expired on July 1, 2018.
This pinball demonstrates the following tropes:
- Anti-Frustration Features: If a launched ball drains without scoring any points, it will be re-served for another go.
- Blow You Away: The storm elemental on the sides of the cabinet and fan, who blows the winds and sends down tornados and lightning. It's probably more for the Rule of Cool than anything else, though.
- Cap: Similar to Earthshaker!, the Skyway Tolls cap at 99, and further shots to the right ramp will award a "Skyway Paid For" bonus.
- Combo: Going between the Lo Pressure Jets to the upper right flipper, around the Hi Pressure Jets to the upper-right flipper, and up the 3-Toll Ramp scores a 3-Way Combo, accompanied by a really awesome siren sound.
- Creator Cameo: The man driving the Storm Blasters van on the backglass? Pat Lawlor himself.
- Creator Thumbprint: "The Power", used here as drop targets.
- Do Not Touch the Funnel Cloud
- Elemental Embodiment: The storm elemental featured throughout the game, who apparently creates whirlwinds and thunderstorms simply because it can.
- Everything's Better with Spinning: Both the Spinner and the rotating discs, though the latter screws with the ball.
- Feelies: Subverted. There's a fan on the top of the machine that, when a whirlwind picks up, will blow on the players and cool them off. Helpful for more intense or competitive games, or just nice in a warm, crowded arcade. Sadly, the digital versions don't do this.Man: "Here it comes!"
- Painting the Medium: The fan could be considered a way to get players "into" the game's theme.
- Product Displacement: Originally, the boy on the backglass was drawn wearing a blue baseball cap with the Chicago Cubs' "C" logo on it. Soon after production started, however, Williams was informed that they could not use the logo. In response, stickers with the Williams' "W" were used to cover up the letter "C"; the artwork was later modified to use the Williams' "W" instead.
- Shout-Out: This could be seen as a Shout Out to Bally's classic Fireball, which was renown for having a spinning disc in the middle of the playfield, called the "Whirlwind Spinner".
- Under the ramp in the upper-left corner of the playfield is a road sign reading "Visit the Fault", a reference to Pat Lawlor's Earthshaker!.
- Signature Style: The fan and rotating discs, and the "bumper shot" through the Lo Pressure bumpers.
- Skill Shot: Hitting the "Feel", "The", and "Power" drop targets nets 300K, 200K, and 100K points, respectively. Hitting more than one adds their values together.
- Spiritual Successor: Sega Pinball's Twister can be considered one due to the similar theme, spinning discs on the playfields, and the fan that blows air on you when playing multiball.
- Super Mode: Some of the Super Cellar Door's rewards can feel like this, as they raise their value much higher than usual.
- Violation of Common Sense: Exactly why are you moving the storm to your area?
- Wizard Mode: The Mega Door Bonus (collected by shooting the Super Cellar Door again after collecting all its awards) is somewhat of one, serving as somewhat of a precursor to Tour the Mansion.
- Woman: "Uh-oh, looks like rain!"