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“Tropical cyclones,” “hurricanes,” and “typhoons”



  Apr 06, 2024

“Tropical cyclones,” “hurricanes,” and “typhoons”



Tropical cyclones are powerful storm systems that form over warm ocean waters and have a variety of names depending on their location around the world. Understanding the distinctions between terms like “tropical cyclones,” “hurricanes,” and “typhoons” involves examining their formation, characteristics, and regional impacts. Let’s delve into a more detailed explanation of these phenomena.

Definition and Formation

A tropical cyclone is a generic term used to describe a rotating, organized system of clouds and thunderstorms that originates over tropical or subtropical waters and has a closed low-level circulation. The primary energy source for these storms is the warm water of the oceans combined with the atmospheric conditions above them. When the sea surface temperatures are at least 26.5 degrees Celsius (79.7 degrees Fahrenheit) and other conducive atmospheric conditions are present, such as low wind shear and sufficient moisture, tropical cyclones can form.

Naming Conventions Based on Location

The distinction between “hurricanes,” “typhoons,” and simply “cyclones” or “tropical cyclones” is primarily geographical:

• Hurricanes occur in the North Atlantic Ocean, the Northeast Pacific Ocean east of the dateline, or the South Pacific Ocean east of 160E. The term “hurricane” is derived from ‘Huracán,’ a god of evil recognized by the Taino, indigenous people of the Caribbean, which was then adopted into European languages.

• Typhoons are what tropical cyclones are called in the Northwest Pacific Ocean west of the dateline. The word “typhoon” comes from the Chinese ‘tai fung,’ which means “big wind.”

• Cyclones occur in the South Pacific and Indian Ocean. The term “cyclone” is used in the Indian Ocean and in the Southern Hemisphere, deriving from the Greek word ‘kyklon,’ meaning “moving in a circle, whirling around.”

Characteristics and Impact

While the names differ, the systems share common characteristics such as strong winds, heavy rain, and the potential to cause significant destruction. The structure of these storms includes a warm central core (the eye), surrounded by bands of rain and thunderstorms spiraling outward.

The classification into categories, based on wind speed, helps assess potential damage. For example, the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale is used to classify hurricanes in the North Atlantic and Northeast Pacific into five categories, with Category 5 being the most intense.

The Coriolis Effect

The rotation direction of these storms is influenced by the Coriolis effect, a phenomenon caused by the Earth’s rotation. In the Northern Hemisphere, tropical cyclones rotate counterclockwise, while in the Southern Hemisphere, they rotate clockwise. This effect is crucial for the development and maintenance of the cyclone’s structure.

Understanding these storms’ regional names and characteristics is vital for preparation and response efforts, as the impact of these systems can be profound, affecting millions of people, economies, and landscapes worldwide.


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