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Tropical Storms and Hurricanes – What’s The Difference?

Author: ServiceMaster Restore

During hurricane season, the news is bursting with stories about different types of tropical storms and hurricanes heading toward U.S. shores. Often times these events are spoken about with weather related terms that we may not all have a true understanding of. For many homeowners in coastal regions, these storms are common and expected given the location. However, there are many who may be confused about the differences between a tropical storm, a cyclone, or a hurricane.

Depending on the part of the country in which you live, you may hear different terms being used for everyday objects. For example, ‘soda’ is a term most people in the U.S. know, however, people in the Midwest may be more accustomed to the word ‘pop’. These differences are common not only throughout the various regions of the U.S. but also throughout the world for a variety of situations.

Take for example tropical storms like the cyclone, hurricane, and typhoon. Many people might ask themselves “What is the difference between a cyclone, hurricane, and typhoon?” and with good reason, since these terms sound different at a glance. However, these three storms have a lot more in common than you might expect, and it all comes down to the region where they occur. Knowing the difference between these events can help you better prepare for the potential damage to your home while also knowing when it’s adequate to evacuate.

Knowing the difference between a tropical storm and a hurricane can help you better prepare for the potential damage to your home while also knowing when it’s adequate to evacuate.

What is a Hurricane?

infographic showing wind speed for tropical depressions, tropical storms, and hurricanes

A hurricane is a type of storm called a tropical cyclone, which forms over tropical or subtropical waters. A tropical cyclone is a rotating low-pressure weather system that has organized thunderstorms but no fronts. Tropical cyclones with maximum sustained surface winds of less than 39 mph are called tropical depressions. Those with maximum sustained winds of 39 mph or higher are called tropical storms. When a storm's maximum sustained winds reach 74 mph, it is considered a hurricane.

The Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale is a 1 to 5 category, based on a hurricane's maximum sustained winds. The higher the category, the greater the hurricane's potential for property damage.

An average of six hurricanes hit the U.S. each year, with three of those being major hurricanes (category 3, 4, or 5). Major hurricanes have the potential to cause devastating wind damage and significant loss of life due to the strength of their winds.

Regardless of the category, hurricanes are life-threatening and can produce deadly storm surge, flash floods, and tornadoes. Hurricanes and tropical storms account for almost 40 percent of catastrophic property loss, so don’t allow common myths regarding hurricanes to trick you into lowering your guard.

What is a Tropical Storm?

Tropical storms are tropical cyclones that have maximum sustained wind speeds ranging from 39-73 mph. Heavy rainfall and high winds from tropical storms can cause significant damage. With an average of 12 named storms occurring each year, many homeowners, even those who do not live in coastal areas, may potentially experience property damage that will require the help of a professional to recover from.

What is a Cyclone?

The generic term cyclone is used to describe a tropical cyclone that originates in the South Pacific and Indian oceans. Similar to hurricanes and typhoons, there are seasons where cyclones are the most frequent throughout these regions; The South Pacific cyclone season is at its peak from January through March, the Northern Indian Ocean cyclone season is unique because it has two peaks, one from April through June and the second from September through December. Between these two peak periods, there are very few tropical cyclones. The Southeast Indian Ocean cyclone season is from November 15 through April 30.

What is a Typhoon?

Hurricanes and typhoons are the same weather phenomenon: tropical cyclones. Typhoon is the term used for a tropical cyclone that is located in the northwest Pacific Ocean, close to the Philippines, Japan and China. Similar to hurricanes, typhoons have sustained surface winds around 74 mph, and produce heavy rainfall and storm surges.

Typhoon season in the Northwestern Pacific Basin is from January through December, and in the Southwestern Pacific Basin it is from July of one year through June of the next. There are no seasonal boundaries for typhoons, and they form year-round, although typically they develop the most between May and October.

Cyclone vs. Hurricane vs. Typhoon vs. Tropical Storm

As you might have noticed, hurricanes, cyclones, and typhoons are all types of tropical cyclones. The main difference between these terms is where the tropical cyclone originates, with each region having a separate name for these storms.

  • Hurricanes originate in the North Atlantic, central North Pacific and the eastern North Pacific oceans.
  • Typhoons originate in the Northwest Pacific Ocean, close to the Philippines, Japan, and China.
  • Cyclones originate in the South Pacific and Indian oceans.

While cyclones, hurricanes, and typhoons are the same type of tropical storm, there are additional differences in how they are classified. Each region has their own classification system led by the official warning center located in that area. Hurricanes have five categories of strength, cyclones have three to five categories of strength, while typhoons have two to three categories of strength.

While the main differences between a cyclone, hurricane, and typhoon are their locations and how they’re categorized, there is the question of what happens when a storm passes into another region. Will a hurricane continue to be called a hurricane in another region?

This very set of circumstances occurred in 2014 when Genevieve first formed in the central Pacific as a depression, became a major hurricane in the central Pacific called Hurricane Genevieve and then moved into the western Pacific as a super typhoon called Typhoon Genevieve. Although the tropical cyclone terms changed, Genevieve remained the storm’s name throughout.

No Matter the Name, These Storms Can Cause Costly Damage

Regardless of the name or location, tropical storms can cause extensive damage to your home. If you live in an area prone to hurricanes, take the necessary steps to make sure you are prepared, start by creating a preparedness plan. This plan should also include details about evacuating and supplies to stockpile in the event of a storm.

If your home is damaged during a tropical storm, ServiceMaster Restore® is ready to help. We offer tropical storm damage restoration services for your home that will help you get back to normal as quickly as possible. We also have more than 850 locations across the United States that are locally owned and operated.

Our team is backed by over 65 years of experience, and our restoration experts will help you get back to normal as quickly as possible. Call 1-800-RESPOND to reach our disaster response center 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.

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