Hurricanes, Typhoons, Cyclones: What’s the Difference?

Whether they are called a Hurricane, Typhoon, Cyclone or Willy-willy (we’ll get to that one later), tropical storm systems can bring devastating weather to tropical locations throughout the world.

Tropical Storm Activity in 2011 - Credit: NASA Goddard Photo and Video

Tropical Storm Activity in 2011 – Credit: NASA Goddard Photo and Video

What is a Tropical Cyclone?

Commonly referred to as hurricanes in the eastern Pacific, north Atlantic, Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico, tropical cyclones are large swirling storm systems that have a common pinwheel shape in satellite images.

Powered by the energy stored in the warm tropical waters, cyclones go through numerous stages. They often begin as a cluster of tropical thunderstorms called a tropical wave. When conditions are just right, these waves will eventually organize into an even larger system with a central circulation called a tropical depression.

In the northern hemisphere, the system’s rotation runs counter-clockwise…

Hurricane Sandy - Credit: NASA Goddard Photo and Video

Hurricane Sandy October 2012 – Credit: NASA Goddard Photo and Video

While south of the equator, the circulation runs clockwise…

Tropical Cyclones Tomas and UIui in March 2010 - Credit: NASA Goddard Photo and Video

Tropical Cyclones Tomas and UIui in March 2010 – Credit: NASA Goddard Photo and Video

Once top sustained winds reach 39 mph or higher, these depressions become classified as a tropical storm and are usually given a name off a list of storm names maintained for that region of the world. Here is a list of storm names (Courtesy: NHC) from around the world.

List of Atlantic Hurricane Season Storm Names – Credit: WeatherBug

These storm machines, if they stay over tropical waters with temperatures greater than 80 degrees Fahrenheit and remain in a relatively low shear environment, have a good chance to grow stronger. Once maximum sustained winds exceed 74 mph, these storms become classified as a hurricane, typhoon, Willy-willy or Cyclone. These systems, when making landfall, can cause massive and devastating wind and flood damage.

Super Typhoon Utor on August 12, 2013 - Credit: NASA Goddard Photo and Video

Super Typhoon Utor on August 12, 2013 – Credit: NASA Goddard Photo and Video

Where Do Tropical Cyclones Form?

Tropical cyclones generally form in any ocean where water temperatures are greater than 80 degrees Fahrenheit and the upper-level winds are benign.

Here are oceans where they can form and their commonly used names:

• North Atlantic (including Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico): Hurricanes
• Eastern and Central North Pacific: Hurricanes
• Western Northern Pacific: Typhoons
• Arabian Sea/Northern Indian Ocean: Tropical Cyclones
• South Indian Ocean: Tropical Cyclones/Willy-Willy for southwest Australia
• Coral Sea/South Pacific: Tropical Cyclone

Tropical Storm Names Around the World - Credit: WeatherBug

Tropical Storm Names Around the World – Credit: WeatherBug

There are several tropical oceans where colder water currents and strong upper-level winds usually prevent tropical cyclones from forming. These locations include the parts of the Atlantic Ocean near the African coast and south of the Equator and Pacific Ocean off of the South American Coast.

However, a rare tropical cyclone did form just off the Brazilian Atlantic Coast in March 2004. This cyclone made landfall on the Brazilian coast with winds estimated to be 100 mph, causing millions of dollars of damage.

 

Download WeatherBug for your smartphone today to get the fastest alerts and Know Before™ (it’s free!):

WeatherBug for Android

WeatherBug for iPhone

Comments

comments

This entry was posted in Hurricanes, Typhoon, Weather Stats, When Weather Attacks.
  • Share and let your friends and family #knowb4:
  • Enter your email address to subscribe to KnowBefore and receive notifications of new posts by email.

  • @WeatherBug on Twitter

  • Categories

  • WeatherBug Apps

    Know Before — Download WeatherBug today to get Dangerous Thunderstorm Alerts:

  • Archives