Cyclones and hurricanes may sound like different kinds of natural disasters, but these tropical systems are actually quite similar. The two storms fall under the overarching category of “tropical cyclone,” which is “a rapid rotating storm originating over tropical oceans from where it draws the energy to develop,” according to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). Understanding the differences in cyclone vs. hurricane categorization comes down to location.
What Are Tropical Cyclones?
A tropical cyclone — also known as a hurricane, typhoon or cyclone, depending on the region — is a powerful and organized weather phenomenon that originates over warm ocean waters near the equator (approximately 300 miles away). This weather system has low atmospheric pressure, sustained winds, torrential rains and intense thunderstorms. Warm water can make a cyclone more intense.
Depending on the time of year, tropical cyclones form around the world, including in the Northwest Pacific Ocean, North Indian basin, North Indian basin, North Atlantic Ocean, the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea.
Cyclone vs. Hurricane
The biggest difference is the terminology we use to distinguish them depending on their geographic locations:
- A tropical cyclone that reaches wind speeds of at least 74 miles per hour (119 kilometers per hour) and takes place in the Caribbean, the Gulf of Mexico, the North Atlantic Ocean and the central North Pacific Ocean is referred to as a hurricane. Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Harvey are examples of this type of tropical storm.
- Those that occur in the Northern Indian Ocean (the Bay of Bengal and Arabian Sea) are called tropical cyclones.
- In the western South Pacific and southeast Indian Ocean, these storms are known as severe tropical cyclones.
- In the North Pacific, it is a typhoon.
Why Tropical Cyclones, Hurricanes and Typhoons Have Different Names
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