As you may have already seen in the news, there are multiple hurricanes swirling across the globe at this moment – Kilo, Ignacio and Jimena in the central Pacific, and Fred in the Atlantic. The unusual triplet of storms in the Pacific is attributable to this year's fairly powerful El Niño, in which that ocean's waters become exceptionally warm and distort weather patterns globally.
But you may also be a bit confused at this point, because some reports - such as this one about Kilo – call the Pacific storms typhoons. And you may have heard the term tropical cyclone used as well.
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So what's up? What do all these terms mean? Is there a big difference between a hurricane, a typhoon, and a tropical cyclone?
Not really, explains the National Ocean Service, a part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. As the agency explains: "Hurricanes, cyclones, and typhoons are all the same weather phenomenon; we just use different names for these storms in different places. In the Atlantic and Northeast Pacific, the term "hurricane" is used. The same type of disturbance in the Northwest Pacific is called a "typhoon" and "cyclones" occur in the South Pacific and Indian Ocean."
But to make things a bit more confusing, all of these big storms technically are tropical cyclones - that is, rotating, organized systems of clouds and thunderstorms that originate over tropical or subtropical waters and have a closed, low-level circulation.
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When it comes to the intensity of storms, however, different terminology is significant, according to the National Hurricane Center.
Tropical Depression: A tropical cyclone with maximum sustained winds of 38 mph (33 knots) or less.
Tropical Storm: A tropical cyclone with maximum sustained winds of 39 to 73 mph (34 to 63 knots).
Hurricane/Typhoon/Tropical Cyclone: Basically, these are all tropical cyclones with maximum sustained winds of 74 mph (64 knots) or higher.
Major Hurricane/Typoon/Tropical Cyclone: A tropical cyclone with maximum sustained winds of 111 mph (96 knots) or higher, corresponding to a Category 3, 4 or 5 on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale.