What is a hurricane? How is it different from a typhoon?

The term “hurricane” is used to describe a severe tropical cyclone in the Northeast Pacific and Northern Atlantic. However, in the Northwest Pacific, the mature tropical cyclone is called a “typhoon.” To put it simply, the only difference between a hurricane and a typhoon is their name, as they are the same in terms of the power and maturity of the storm

But there are other terms that are used or were used to describe a powerful tropical cyclone. Since 1504, the word “typhoon” is inspired by the French word “typhon.” On the other hand, there are older uses of the word that were found in historical records, and some of these words may have influenced the creation of the terms that we use today to describe violent tropical cyclones.

In China, there was the term “tai fung,” and in the Urdu language, there was “ṭūfān.” In the English language, there exist several words related to the typhoon term in the years before 1588, even before the said word was coined, such as “tuffon,” “touffon,” and “tufan.” The term “typhoon” is believed to have only been invented in 1820, with theories suggesting that it came from the Chinese phrase “tai fung.”

According to studies, mature tropical cyclones will form under six conditions. One, the warm sea surface temperatures should be sufficient. Two, there is supposed to be an instability in the atmosphere. Three, in the lower and middle levels of the troposphere, there should be high humidity. Four, there should be a Coriolis effect in the area where the tropical cyclone would form, meaning that there is some sort of clockwise-counterclockwise force in the atmosphere. Five, a disturbance or a low-pressure system should already be occurring in the area. And lastly, there needs to be a wind shear or a change in the speed of the wind.

About one-third of the tropical cyclones that are forming in one year would travel towards the Western Pacific. In this area, the peak months wherein more tropical cyclone travels towards them are between August and October, with some of the strongest ones usually occurring in September. These violent storms would typically form in the northeast of the Philippines, but they sometimes get stronger as they move past the said country. In addition, the Philippines have the lowest number of storms in February, but the numbers steadily increase from June up to the next months. Although the stronger storms occur between August and October, the genesis of typhoons is unpredictable, and it was proven when the Philippines’ strongest storm, Typhoon Haiyan, formed and devastated the country in November. 

Despite the Philippines being hit the most by tropical cyclones, some of the strongest storms have destroyed properties in Japan and China. Most of the deadliest severe tropical cyclones have impacted China, mainly due to their large landmass that makes them a big target in the direction of the storms.

There are three general directions that typhoons typically follow. The first one is the straight track, where the storm moves to the right of the Philippines and towards Taiwan, Vietnam, or the southern portion of China. The second direction is the parabolic recurving track, where the cyclone curves towards the northeast and affects the eastern part of the Philippines and travels towards Korea, Japan, Taiwan, China, and eastern Russia. The third direction is the northward track that the storm follows towards the north and won’t affect any islands, although the monsoon may bring rain to the countries nearby.

Such cyclones usually blow up in the autumn; the wind, which has a speed of more than 110 kilometers, is often accompanied by thunder, lightning, and rain. Before the days of weather forecasts, sailors used to look forward with dread to these storms. Seamen would often battle against the storm for days, together on their ship. The sails would usually be torn to shreds by the fury of the wind. Mighty seas would charge upon the ship like an invading host, beating with terrific force upon the decks, sometimes carrying away the masts. These storms are not a danger to ships as they once were, as they would often receive a warning by radio of approaching hurricanes nowadays so that they are often able to get out of the way of the great storms.