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Typhoons, Hurricanes, Cyclones and other Remnants: Storm Terminology Explained

by Jailyn Meade | Operator


Meteorology has its fair share of terms and it’s easy to confuse them with one another.

Same Storm, Different Name

What makes a storm a hurricane, a cyclone or a typhoon? These are all the same weather phenomena, low-pressure circular storms with torrential rains and wind speeds exceeding 119km per hour; however, their names differ depending on their location.

Hurricanes are storms that occur in the western North Atlantic, central and eastern North Pacific, Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico. In the western North Pacific, the same storm is called a “typhoon.” It’s easier to keep the storms in the Southern Hemisphere straight; “cyclones” develop in the Bay of Bengal, Arabian Sea and Northern Indian Ocean, whereas “severe tropical cyclones” develop in the southern Indian Ocean and South Pacific.

The Seasons of Storms

As the seasons change, so does storm activity. This year’s Atlantic hurricane season runs from June 1st to November 30th. Typhoons in the Pacific can form year-round, but most often the season runs from May to October. In the South Pacific cyclone season begins on November 1st and ends on April 30th. And the cyclone season in the southern Indian Ocean begins two weeks earlier and ends around the same time as the South Pacific. Cyclones are concentrated from May to November in the northern Indian Ocean, however this area has no official storm season.

Regardless of their names, all of these storms have similar patterns; they draw their energy from the evaporation of water in the oceans below them. That is why they generally become weaker when they hit land. Nevertheless, they are still known to weak havoc when they make landfall, causing wind damage, torrential rains, flooding and storm surges.

Storm Grades

Storms are categorized based of their maximum wind speed. A tropical depression has winds less than 63km/hr. When winds surpass 63km/hr they are upgraded to a tropical storm.

Storms with winds above 119km/hr are designated as cyclones, typhoons or hurricanes. These systems can be hundreds of kilometres wide and are most destructive when they move slowly over land.

According the Saffir- Simpson scale, hurricanes are categorized by number. A category 1 hurricane refers to a storm with maximum sustained wind speeds of 119-153 km/h. This scale goes all the way to a category 5 hurricane, which has maximum winds exceeding 249 km/h. The latest category 5 hurricane occurred in October 2018, where Hurricane Michael made landfall on the Florida Panhandle. These intense hurricanes are becoming increasingly common, causing researchers are to call to question whether the Saffir – Simpson scale needs expansion.

Hurricane Michael, October 10, 2018

Typhoons have their own classifications based on wind speeds, however their names vary depending where you look. For example, the Japan Meteorological Agency classifies them as typhoon, very strong typhoon or violent typhoon. And the United States monitored Joint Typhoon Warning Centre grades the storms as tropical depression, tropical storm, or super typhoon.

Naming a Storm

Until the early 1950s, tropical storms were tracked by the year and order in which they occurred. Since multiple storms can occur at once, the names led many to misinterpret one storm for another. To avoid confusion, weather forecasters began giving them names. Now tropical cyclones receive names in alphabetical order. The World Meteorological Organization determines the names for both hurricanes and typhoons. For hurricanes, the name list is comprised of alternating men’s and women’s names used on a six year rotation. Typhoons on the other hand, include names varying from animals, flowers, astrological signs and personal names.

In sum, all storms should be taken seriously, regardless of names or classification.