Hurricane, cyclone, typhoon, tornado – what’s the difference?

What is the difference between a hurricane, a cyclone, and a typhoon?

The only difference between a hurricane, a cyclone, and a typhoon is the location where the storm occurs.

Hurricanes, cyclones, and typhoons are all the same weather phenomenon; we just use different names for these storms in different places. In the Atlantic and Northeast Pacific, the term “hurricane” is used. The same type of disturbance in the Northwest Pacific is called a “typhoon” and “cyclones” occur in the South Pacific and Indian Ocean.

Tropical cyclone or cyclone. What’s the difference?

tropical cyclone is a generic term used by meteorologists to describe a rotating, organized system of clouds and thunderstorms that originates over tropical or subtropical waters and has closed, low-level circulation. Once a tropical cyclone reaches maximum sustained winds of 74 miles per hour or higher, it is then classified as a hurricane, typhoon, or cyclone depending upon where the storm originates in the world.

Tropical cyclones rotate counterclockwise in the Northern Hemisphere.

They are classified as follows:

  • Tropical Depression: A tropical cyclone with maximum sustained winds of 38 mph (33 knots) or less.
  • Tropical Storm: A tropical cyclone with maximum sustained winds of 39 to 73 mph (34 to 63 knots).
  • Hurricane: A tropical cyclone with maximum sustained winds of 74 mph (64 knots) or higher. In the western North Pacific, hurricanes are called typhoons; similar storms in the Indian Ocean and South Pacific Ocean are called cyclones.
  • Major Hurricane: A tropical cyclone with maximum sustained winds of 111 mph (96 knots) or higher, corresponding to a Category 3, 4 or 5 on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale.

But tornadoes are a different kettle of fish

Tembisa 27 July 2016. Picture: sabreakingnews.co.za

Tornadoes are really beyond the edge of our understanding of things,” says Tony Del Genio, a climatologist at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York City. “This science is in its infancy.”

Del Genio says tornadoes are nature’s hardest weather event to predict. They are essentially flukes of nature. Unlike hurricanes, they form spontaneously, are short-lived, and traverse a much smaller land mass by comparison.

Many atmospheric conditions need to converge at the right time for tornadoes to form. They need hot, humid air near the ground with a cool air mass above them. They also need strong wind velocity at higher altitudes, known as wind shear, to get them spinning.

What is the difference between tornadoes and hurricanes?

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A tornado is a violently spiraling funnel cloud that extends from the bottom of a thunderstorm to the ground. It is important not to confuse a tornado with a hurricane or tropical cyclone because tornadoes and hurricanes are very different phenomena. The only similarity between them is that they both contain strong rotating winds that can cause damage.

Tembisa 27 July 2016. Picture: sabreakingnews.co.za

  • Location :Tornadoes usually occur over land, while hurricanes almost always form over the ocean.
  • Size: The largest tornado every observed was 4 km wide, but most tornadoes are about 0.8 km wide. Hurricanes are much larger, ranging from about 160 km to 1600 km wide.
  • Life cycles: A tornado’s lifetime is short, ranging from a few seconds to a few hours. A hurricane’s life cycle can last from days to weeks.
  • Wind speeds: The strongest tornadoes can have wind speeds over 483 kph, but even the strongest hurricanes rarely produce wind speeds over 322 kph.

Why are tropical storms and hurricanes named?

NOAA’s National Hurricane Center does not control the naming of tropical storms. Instead, there is a strict procedure established by the World Meteorological Organization. For Atlantic hurricanes, there is a list of male and female names which are used on a six-year rotation. The only time that there is a change is if a storm is so deadly or costly that the future use of its name on a different storm would be inappropriate. In the event that more than twenty-one named tropical cyclones occur in a season, any additional storms will take names from the Greek alphabet.

Watch: Hurricane Irma makes landfall

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