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What is the Difference Between a Typhoon and a Cyclone?

A cyclical tropical storm will be a typhoon or a cyclone depending on the global area of origin.
A tropical typhoon, or cyclone, viewed from space.
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  • Written By: S. Mithra
  • Edited By: L. S. Wynn
  • Last Modified Date: 17 April 2014
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Strangely, there is no quantitative difference in strength, speed, or damage caused by a cyclone versus a typhoon. The only difference between these two names for cyclical tropical storms are the global area in which they form. People around the Indian Ocean and Southwestern Pacific Ocean (that part of the Pacific Ocean near Australia) refer to these storms as cyclones and those storms that generate in the Northwestern Pacific Ocean (that part of the Pacific Ocean near Asia) are called typhoons. Incidentally, people around the Atlantic Ocean and Eastern Pacific Ocean (that part of the Pacific Ocean near the Americas) call such powerful, cylindrical storms hurricanes.

A low-pressure system that develops over the ocean during the right conditions might create thunderstorms and high winds that qualify it as a tropical depression. This storm could keep gaining energy from warm ocean waters and advance to a tropical storm if it has winds of 39-73 mph (62-117 km/hr). Once the rotating, centrifugal force exceeds these wind speeds, meteorologists classify it as a more severe tropical storm whose name varies based on its location.

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If a severe storm churns somewhere in parts of the Northwestern Pacific Ocean (which is in the Eastern Hemisphere), we call it a typhoon. However, if this same exact storm were hypothetically dropped into the Indian Ocean or the middle of the Southwestern Pacific Ocean (which is still in the Eastern Hemisphere), we'd refer to it as a cyclone. Among cyclones, there are different names based on their locations. Severe cyclonic storm, severe tropical cyclone, and tropical cyclone are all variations of the same type of storm.

Even though some international meteorologists have universalized a cyclone to mean any circular wind system, for the most part its geographic specificity endures. One way to get a grasp on this distinction is by starting off with a flat representation of the world in its most common form (i.e., with the Americas on the far left and Australia on the far right). The left half of the map uses the term hurricane, the top half of the right side of the map uses the term typhoon and the bottom half of the right side of the map uses the term cyclone.

Another, more precise way to look at it is by considering meridians and other longitudinal lines. Storms in the Northwestern Pacific Ocean, west of the International Dateline or IDL (that cuts roughly between the Americas and Asia, located at 180° longitude) are called typhoons. Storms in the Indian Ocean or in the Southwest Pacific Ocean west of 160°E longitude (160°E longitude is just a little west of the IDL) are called cyclones.

In the northern hemisphere, storms turn counterclockwise, while in the southern hemisphere they rotate clockwise. One difference between a certain cyclone and typhoon might be their rotational direction. Most serious storms are created near the equator because of the ocean's temperature and currents, but sometimes they'll stray further away. Damage from these storms usually results when they drift over populated coastal land. They are separate phenomena from a monsoon, tornado, or tidal wave.

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Discuss this Article

anon191143
Post 15

This is best answer to this question that I've gotten.

anon109775
Post 14

This article is a nice one and explains the difference between a typhoon and cyclone very minutely. Thanks.

anon109006
Post 13

It is interesting how longitude and latitude play such an important role in cyclical tropical storms. Ever since my dad mentioned his destroyer went through a typhoon during World War II, I have always wondered what the difference was. Thank you wiseGEEK. Great web site.

Sachneet Kaur
Post 12

thanks for this information. i was so confused about the difference between a typhoon and cyclone, but now i am able to understand. Thanks a lot!

anon51215
Post 9

Science is great! Scientists are greater! WiseGEEK is the greatest!

natynm

anon47903
Post 8

thank you very much for the very good information. I like it a lot. I'll tell my friends to read here too. Thanks again!

anon17804
Post 7

This was the BEST site I could find (after 10 minutes of searching) to very simply and clearly answer my very simple question. Thank you!

faycarey
Post 5

I suggest, as a long term science/geography/ English teacher, that you either show a world map or better still a map with the zones marked together with the chart from the Australian Bureau of meteorology where they deal with the same question.

anon12423
Post 4

Thank you for the information. When I sailed the East China Sea, we knew what a typhoon was. Now I know what a cyclone is... (but It's better when experienced.) Awesome forces of nature, for sure!

anon2075
Post 2

are there any chances of knowing about the interal part of the tornadoes

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