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Hurricane … Typhoon … Cyclone … which is it?

Here in North America, we know tropical systems as Hurricanes, but that isn't quite the case across the globe. The ingredients for these systems remains the same, warm waters, light winds, and moisture. They all form as a pre-existing disturbance and could develop into what we know as a "hurricane". In the Northwest Pacific Ocean, tropical systems forming near Asia are called Typhoons. Systems that form in the South Pacific and Indian Oceans are referred to as Cyclones. Near Australia, they are called a "Willy-Nilly".

Atlantic Ocean
Central Pacific Ocean
Eastern Pacific Ocean

In the United States, tropical systems can move through the Central Pacific Ocean, Eastern Pacific Ocean, and the Atlantic Ocean. The word "hurricane" comes from the Spanish word "huracn", which is a term meaning "God of Evil". Other sources say it's a Mayan storm god named "Hurakan". Storms that reach the United States are assigned certain categories based off of a series of classifications, regarding their strength. The categories include Tropical Depression, Tropical Storm, and a Hurricane. Once at hurricane strength, they are ranked one through five on the Saffir-Simpson scale, which you can read more about here.

Naval Oceanography Portal

Typhoons are found in the Northwest Pacific Ocean, just off the coast of Asia. The word "typhoon" has plenty of derivations including: "typhon" by the Greeks meaning "whirlwind", "tufan" found in Arab, Persian, and Hindi meaning "big cyclonic storm, and "dafeng", a Chinese term meaning "great wind". The World Meteorological Organization classifies typhoons by their wind speed: Tropical Depression (Less than 38 mph), Typhoon (39-73 mph), Strong Typhoon (74-97 mph), Very Strong Typhoon (98-120 mph), and Violent Typhoon (121+ mph).

South Pacific & Indian Ocean

Cyclones are found in South Pacific and Indian Oceans. "Tropical Cyclone" is generic term to describe tropical storms born in warm waters that produce at least 39 mph winds. Regardless of strength, these systems are solely classified as a cyclone. Those in the Northern Hemisphere spin counterclockwise and cyclones in the Southern Hemisphere spin clockwise. The Australian Scale of Cyclone Intensity goes as follows: Category 1 (39-56 mph), Category 2 (57-78 mph), Category 3 (79-102 mph), Category 4 (103-140 mph), and Category 5 (140+ mph).

Joie Bettenhausen


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