Are hurricanes or tornadoes or typhoons are similar or not? How do you tell the difference between all these natural disasters? Well, fear not, because I have it covered for you right here.
First, let us get it straight: all these weather phenomena have to do with strong winds. Not my-umbrella-got-torn-from-my-hands strong, mind you, but rather a my-house-got-blown-away-to-the-Land-of-Oz kind of thing.
Differences between a tornado, hurricane and cyclone
Yet before we get to the actual difference between hurricanes and typhoons, we must understand that, in general, they are the same thing called a tropical cyclone.
Why a tropical cyclone is dangerous?
A tropical cyclone is a huge mass of clouds that gather in the sky and start rotating counter clock-wise due to very low air pressure. After a while, it lures in moisture from all over the place, becoming bigger and more dangerous. This rotation may or may not become trouble, but its main quality that never changes is that cyclones always form over the oceans or seas.
In addition, if you live in moderate or colder climates, there is nothing for you to worry about, even if your house is right by the seaside because you will only hear about cyclones from the news. After all, they are called tropical for a reason:
They only form in tropical or subtropical areas, because they need warm water to get things going.
Now, if they are all the same, why have different names for them? The short answer is to confuse everyone. I guess you will need a longer one after this.
Therefore, as I said, tropical cyclones may even not pose any serious threat to people. Cyclones occur much more often than you think! Only a few of them grow large and strong enough to become hurricanes or typhoons.
A tropical depression
The weakest version of a tropical cyclone is called a tropical depression. It is a similar swirling mass of clouds, usually accompanied by storms, but the force of winds in it is not very high. The strongest gusts are 39 mph, which is a lot, I know, but it is rarely the case.
On dry land, such weather would only require you to close all windows and doors and stay at home. You can even watch the raging storm while sitting on a windowsill with a cup of hot chocolate.
Still, if you are caught by a depression in the open sea, it may and will be a problem because the force of the wind is enough to overturn a boat, and heavy rain with lightning does not help the situation.
A tropical storm
When the winds are stronger than 39 mph, the cyclone is then called a tropical storm. This is a more serious threat, and you will do well to hide inside your house because gusts of wind might reach 72 mph.
Imagine a car driving at full speed on a highway, that will be the force of wind during a severe tropical storm for you.
Hurricane or typhoon?
And only if the wind gets even more powerful than that can it be called a hurricane or a typhoon. Moreover, here is where we get to the difference between the two: in fact, there is almost none! If a severe tropical cyclone with wind speeds of over 75 mph occurs in the North Atlantic or North-East Pacific, it is called a hurricane. If it is in the North-West Pacific, then it is a typhoon.
All the rest about them is the same, and a hurricane can even become a typhoon, or vice versa if it travels from one area to the other.
We hear more about hurricanes than typhoons because the Atlantic Ocean is warmer than the Pacific, and warm water acts as a fuel for cyclones. It evaporates from the surface and then condenses again in the cold air, forming clouds, which clump together and start swirling around with the wind. This way, cyclones can cover extremely large areas and transform into real monsters under the right conditions.
What about tornadoes?
Are tornadoes the same as cyclones? the answer is no. These two cannot be more different. First of all, tropical cyclones only form in warm areas over the ocean; they can never occur anywhere else. Tornadoes, on the contrary, can form almost anywhere they please, both over the sea and overland. However, there is much more to it than that. You see, a tornado is a swirling funnel of air coming down from the sky. It appears during thunderstorms, and it is rather a consequence than a reason for severe weather.
The column of air falls to the ground, and wind speeds there can reach anything from 100 to the whopping 300 mph. Needless to say, anything that gets in its way will be hurled upwards, be it a person, a car, or Dorothy’s house.
Nevertheless, despite its terrible power, a tornado is a very local event, and short-lived at that. The biggest one ever registered by scientists was just over 1.5 miles in diameter and lasted about an hour or so.
Compared to tropical cyclones, which can stretch over 1,000 mi and last for days or even weeks, it is like a grain of sand on a beach. By the way, cyclones coming to the shore can also be accompanied by several tornadoes forming over land. Therefore, they are something like sidekicks to the big bad boys.
The safest place of a tornado
Still, tornadoes and hurricanes or typhoons, if you prefer the northwestern Pacific are not entirely different, after all, and they have certain similarities too.
Do you remember the swirling part? That is the thing. Both hurricanes and tornadoes are powerful masses of air rotating around the center at high speeds. In addition, the center, in its turn, is usually calm and windless.
So calm that it is almost creepy. It is called the eye of the tornado or the hurricane, and it is the safest place to be when the phenomenon comes to you. Well, apart from being thousands of miles away from it, of course.
Unfortunately, you will have to be lucky to get into the eye and wait until the weather calms down. The eyewall has the strongest winds, and if you get too close to it, you will probably be thrown around like a toy.
In addition, if you are at sea, then the eye is not safe at all. The winds all around the eye make huge waves crisscrossing the area inside, and your ship or boat will have a hard time staying afloat.
Not to mention that only the eye of a hurricane is safe on land; tornadoes are much smaller in diameter, and you can easily get in a lot of trouble if you are caught into the eye of one by some wild chance.
How powerful a hurricane could be?
If you have been wondering how exactly powerful a hurricane could be, then you should know there are five categories of hurricanes according to the National Weather Service.
Category 1 Hurricane
It is just slightly more intense than a tropical storm, and in some countries, it is still considered as such. The wind speeds can reach 94 mph, which is a lot of force to deal with, but it is not as if you would not be safe behind the concrete walls of an apartment building.
Category 2 Hurricane
It is another story altogether. The wind blows at speeds of up to 109 mph, and that is where the real trouble starts. The gusts are so strong they can fell trees and billboards in the streets, so it becomes dangerous outside. Luckily, you are still okay if you are inside a sturdy building and away from the windows.
Category 3 Hurricane
When a hurricane grows to Category 3, it is already a disaster. Firstly, it is big. Secondly, it is powerful. The winds are reaching 129 mph, and catching such a gust is like being hit with a racecar. That is why this kind of hurricane is called a major one. Not to mention that the rain and lightning add to the atmosphere of a cataclysm. It is best to hide in a cellar or some other reinforced place and wait until the worst is over.
Category 4 Hurricane
A Category 4 major hurricane is something you do not want to see with your own eyes. With gusts of wind up to 157 mph, it can tear trees from the ground and hurl large objects in the air, causing lots of damage. The most recent Category 4 hurricane occurred in August-September of 2018, and it was named Florence. It traveled from off the western coast of Africa, where it began as a tropical depression, and grew in size and force until it became one of the most powerful hurricanes of recent years.
Category 5 Hurricane
And finally, a Category 5 major hurricane is a thing to be avoided at all costs. In other classifications, it has even been called a super typhoon or a super cyclonic storm, which says a lot. The most chilling thing about it is, of course, the strength of the wind. The most powerful super cyclone in the recorded history was Hurricane Allen. That struck the Caribbean in July-August of 1980. The speed of the wind was an incredible 190 mph! It is like a bullet train made of air and blowing continuously over a huge area!
Well now, what is that thing with the names? They are not only given to hurricanes. But to all tropical cyclones that reach wind speeds of over 40 mph. Moreover, it is not done for fun either: cyclones usually appear at specific seasons, and there can be more than one of them at once, moving in different directions. Therefore, weather services around the world give them names not to confuse them with each other.
One other thing: some time ago, they only named hurricanes after women. Anyway, a few years ago, an equal opportunity came to the weather service, and now tropical storms are named after both genders.