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What is the difference between Typhoon, Hurricane and Cyclone?

When Super Typhoon Megi hit the headlines we were asked what is the difference between a typhoon a hurricane and a cyclone.

Because we are often asked about the meaning of Typhoon, Hurricane, Cyclone, Tropical Depression and Tropical Storm we thought we’d re-run this story  from last year explaining what they all mean and what are the processes to actually create a tropical storm.  

Firstly whether you call it a Typhoon a Hurricane or a Cyclone they are all the same thing – they just form in different parts of the world. 
Three Names for the Same Thing
  • Tropical Cyclones – form in the Southern Hemisphere (cyclonic)
  • Hurricanes – form around America – either in the Atlantic Ocean or in the eastern Pacific Ocean (east of the International Dateline)
  • Typhoons form in the western Pacific (west of the International Dateline).  This means a Hurricane that moves through the International Dateline would then become a Typhoon.
Another thing all these tropical storms have in common is how they are made…
How a storm is made
  • Step 1:  A tropical ‘wave’ is needed.  This is literally a wave in the air, or a disturbance or the normal easterly flow.  The wind tries to move another direction and it causes the air pressure to start falling – and the air to start spinning – creating a low.
  • Step 2:  This then forms into a tropical depression.   It’s given a number.  For example, TD2 (for the second Tropical Depression of the official storm season).
  • Step 3:  Wind speeds start to average gale force – officially making it a Tropical Storm.  It’s at this point the storm is named.  In our part of the world this would become a Category 1 cyclone.
  • Step 4:  There are some more technical things that need to go on, but once the winds increase we start stepping up the categories.  Different regions use different ways to measure a storm’s strength which is a bit of a pain – but this cyclone season (which starts in November and runs until April) we will use the category system used by the Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) in Australia – who really are the cyclone experts in the South Pacific.

Homepage image / File, Flooding from a typhoon in the Philippines last year / Rew Shearer


Guest on 22/10/2010 2:12am

I believe all tropical storms in the Indian Ocean – either north or south of the equator – are called Tropical Cyclones, and not typhoons as suggested by the article.



WW Forecast Team on 22/10/2010 4:48am

Good point David – thanks for commenting

– WeatherWatch Weekend Team

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