Cyclone vs. Typhoon vs. Hurricane: Are They All The Same?

Are hurricanes, cyclones, and typhoons distinct meteorological phenomena, or just different names for the same horrible type of storm?

Cyclones explained

Let’s start with cyclone, since it has the clearest and most precise definition of the three. A cyclone is “a large-scale, atmospheric wind-and-pressure system characterized by low pressure at its center and by circular wind motion.”  Cyclones spin “counterclockwise in the Northern Hemisphere, clockwise in the Southern Hemisphere.”

A storm born in warm, tropical waters is known as a tropical depression until its winds reach 39 miles per hour, and then it is classified as a cyclone. However, cyclones are active in so many parts of the world, that we use additional words to describe them.

In Australia, a cyclone is called a willy-willy. Storms forming in the North Atlantic, central North Pacific, and eastern North Pacific are known as hurricanes. A storm in the Northwest Pacific is a typhoon. Storms originating in the South Pacific and Indian Ocean are tropical cyclones, a term that can also be used more generally to describe all these storms.

So, the only true difference between a hurricane, a cyclone, and a typhoon is where in the world the storm is!

Hurricane vs. typhoon

The etymologies of hurricane and typhoon are truly storm-worthy, both stemming from stories of mythical monsters.

Hurricane travels a convoluted road through the Portuguese furacão; the Taino hurakán; the Mayan god Huracán, a deity of storms and fire; and other similar words referring to a storm, leading to dozens of spelling variations. In 1688, it became established as hurricane as we spell it today.

The word typhoon is derived from similar-sounding words, as well. The Greeks had typhon (“whirlwind”), while tufan (“big cyclonic storm”) is used in the Arab, Persian, and Hindi. It’s unclear whether or not the two terms are related. Dafeng is “great wind” in Chinese. Typhon was a semi-divine monster in Greek mythology that was the personification of storms, and the father of all monsters, including the sphinx (like the Egyptian statue), Cerberus (the three-headed dog), and the Nemean lion (a super lion that Hercules had to kill).

Whatever you call it, they’re monstrous storms.

What’s the difference between a category 1 and a category 4 hurricane? Read about what the hurricane category numbers mean.

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