Understanding the different types of storms can be very difficult for those of us without a degree in meteorology. Watching all the seasons of Storm Chasers just doesn’t give the same comprehensive knowledge base to be able to tell what the differences are between types of major storms. However, differentiating between a typhoon and a hurricane can be easy.

Tropical cyclone

Cyclones, hurricanes, and typhoons are really different names for the same type of weather system: a tropical cyclone. They are all identical except for two factors: location and season. The different types of storms go by one name in one are, and a different name in another. Each type of storm also has a “season” when it is more common.

Liz Tracy

Typhoons in the east

When a tropical cyclone is in the Eastern Hemisphere, it is known as a typhoon. Typhoons most commonly cause damage to the Asian continent and surrounding islands. The word “typhoon” has possible origins in several Asian cultures: Persian, Arabic, and Chinese. If a typhoon crosses the International Date Line headed west, it becomes a hurricane.


Hurricanes in the west

Tropical cyclones wreaking havoc in the Western Hemisphere are called hurricanes. “Hurricane” comes from the name of the Caribbean deity of evil, Hurrican. Hurricanes affect the Americas and the Caribbean Islands. Should a tropical cyclone cross over the International Date Line to the east, it is then called a typhoon rather than a hurricane.

Erin Trieb/National Geographic

Cyclone: Specific and scientific

Cyclones are a little different from either hurricanes or typhoons because any tropical storm, regardless of location, can be scientifically referred to as a tropical cyclone. However, the name cyclone is also used instead of any other name for these types of storms that are in the South Pacific or Indian oceans.


Tropical cyclone scale

While hurricanes, cyclones, and typhoons are all the same type of storm, each individual tropical cyclone can vary in intensity. There are five different scales upon which the storms are measured in different areas of the world. While the names of the rankings vary, the main measurement is the same in all the scales: sustained wind speed. The higher the wind speed, the worse the storm.