Tracking the Tropics: What’s the difference between hurricanes and typhoons?

Tracking the Tropics

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Things are quiet in the Atlantic basin as we wrap up the second month of this year’s hurricane season, but we don’t expect it to stay that way for long.

August and September are typically the most active months of the Atlantic hurricane season, so we expect to see activity pick up in the coming weeks. And while things have been quiet since Hurricane Elsa, we are still on track to have an above-average season this year.

While all is quiet in the Atlantic basin for now, athletes from around the world who are competing in the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo have been experiencing wet and windy weather thanks to a tropical storm.

The anticipated typhoon was just the latest hit to the Olympics that were first delayed the coronavirus pandemic and then opened under scorching heat. But thankfully, Tropical Storm Nepartak never actually reached typhoon strength, staying at tropical storm status with about 45 mph winds.

So what’s the difference between a typhoon and a hurricane? Nothing, except for where the storm develops. Here’s a look at the basins around the world:

Atlantic basin storms

The Atlantic hurricane season runs from June 1 to Nov. 30 and, of course, the tropical cyclones that form here form into “hurricanes.” Since the Atlantic Basin is in the northern hemisphere, the storms spin counter-clockwise. All storms that form in this region are monitored and covered by the National Hurricane Center.

Pacific basin storms

The eastern Pacific Hurricane Season starts about two weeks earlier and runs from May 15 to Nov. 30. Similar to the Atlantic basin, those cyclones also form into hurricanes and spin counter-clockwise because they are in the northern hemisphere. The storms are also covered by the National Hurricane Center and by another organization called the Central Pacific Hurricane Center.

The storms typically develop somewhere close to Mexico and move west or northwest.

Northwest Pacific storms

The Northwest Pacific basin season is year-round. Storms that develop there are called typhoons with winds from 64 to 129 knots (74 to 148 mph.) If a cyclone has winds greater than 130 knots (149 mph) it’s called a super typhoon. Those storms spin counter-clockwise and are covered by the Joint Typhoon Warning Center.

North Indian Ocean storms

The tropical season runs from April to December. The storms from into “Very Severe Cyclonic Storms.” They are also covered by the Joint Typhoon Warning Center (JTWC) and spin counter-clockwise. They form near the equator and generally move north on either side of India.

Southwest Pacific storms

The tropical season runs from October to May and the storms that do form are referred to as “Severe Tropical Cyclones.” Because they are in the southern hemisphere, the area of low pressure spins clockwise. These storms are also covered by the Joint Typhoon Warning Center.

Southwest Indian Ocean storms

Storms there form from October through May and are referred to as “tropical cyclones.” They spin clockwise and are covered by the Joint Typhoon Warning Center. The cyclones form in the Southwestern Indian Ocean and move toward Madagascar and the east coast of Africa.

Southeast Indian Ocean storms

This season also runs from October to May. The storms are referred to as “Severe Tropical Cyclones” and spin clockwise. The Joint Typhoon Warning Center also monitors and tracks the cyclones that form in that region. They generally develop and move toward Australia as well as Indonesia and Singapore.

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