Differences Between Hurricanes, Typhoons, and Cyclones

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During hurricane season, you may hear the terms hurricane, typhoon, and cyclone used often, but what does each mean?

While all three of these terms have to do with tropical cyclones, they are not the same thing. Which one you use depends on which part of the world the tropical cyclone is in.

Hurricanes

Mature tropical cyclones with winds of 74 mph or more that exist anywhere in the North Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean Sea, Gulf of Mexico, or in the eastern or central North Pacific Ocean east of the International Date Line are called "hurricanes."  

As long as a hurricane stays within any of the above-mentioned waters, even if it crosses from one basin to a neighboring basin (i.e., from the Atlantic to the Eastern Pacific), it will still be called a hurricane. A notable example of this is Hurricane Flossie (2007). Hurricane Ioke (2006) is an example of a tropical cyclone that did change titles. It strengthened into a hurricane just south of Honolulu, Hawaii. 6 days later, it crossed the International Date Line into the Western Pacific basin, becoming Typhoon Ioke. Learn more about why we name hurricanes.

The National Hurricane Center (NHC) monitors and issues forecasts for hurricanes occurring in these regions. The NHC classifies any hurricane with wind speeds of at least 111 mph as a major hurricane.  

The NHC Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale
Category NameSustained Winds (1-minute)
Category 174-95 mph
Category 296-110 mph
Category 3 (major)111-129 mph
Category 4 (major)130-156 mph
Category 5 (major)157+ mph

Typhoons

Typhoons are mature tropical cyclones that form in the Northwest Pacific basin -- the western part of the North Pacific Ocean, between 180° (the International Date Line) and 100° East longitude.

The Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA) is in charge of monitoring typhoons and issuing typhoon forecasts.

Similarly to the National Hurricane Center's major hurricanes, the JMA classifies strong typhoons with winds of at least 92 mph as severe typhoons, and those with winds of at least 120 mph as super typhoons

The JMA Typhoon Intensity Scale
Category NameSustained Winds (10-minute)
Typhoon73-91 mph
Very Strong Typhoon98-120 mph
Violent Typhoon121+ mph

Cyclones

Mature tropical cyclones within the North Indian Ocean between 100° E and 45° E are called "cyclones."

The Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) monitors cyclones and classifies them according to the below intensity scale:

IMD TC Intensity Scale
CategorySustained Winds (3-minute)
Cyclonic Storm39-54 mph
Severe Cyclonic Storm55-72 mph
Very Severe Cyclonic Storm73-102 mph
Extremely Severe Cyclonic Storm103-137 mph
Super Cyclonic Storm138+ mph 

To make matters more confusing, we sometimes refer to hurricanes in the Atlantic as cyclones too -- that's because, in a broad sense of the word, they are. In weather, any storm that has a closed circular and counterclockwise motion can be called a cyclone. By this definition, hurricanes, mesocyclone thunderstorms, tornadoes, and even extratropical cyclones (weather fronts) are all technically cyclones!