What is the difference between a hurricane, a cyclone, and a typhoon?

The only difference between a hurricane, a cyclone, and a typhoon is the location where the storm occurs.

A close-up satellite image of Hurricane Isabel taken on Sept. 15, 2003.

A close-up satellite image of Hurricane Isabel taken on Sept. 15, 2003. The National Ocean Service helps coastal communities prepare for and recover from major coastal storms such as hurricanes.

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.

The ingredients for these storms include a pre-existing weather disturbance, warm tropical oceans, moisture, and relatively light winds. If the right conditions persist long enough, they can combine to produce the violent winds, incredible waves, torrential rains, and floods we associate with this phenomenon.

In the Atlantic, hurricane season officially runs June 1 to November 30. However, while 97 percent of tropical activity occurs during this time period, there is nothing magical in these dates, and hurricanes have occurred outside of these six months.

Tropical cyclone or cyclone. What's the difference?

Confused about the difference between a "tropical cyclone" and a "cyclone?" A tropical cyclone is a generic term used by meteorologists to describe a rotating, organized system of clouds and thunderstorms that originates over tropical or subtropical waters and has closed, low-level circulation. Once a tropical cyclone reaches maximum sustained winds of 74 miles per hour or higher, it is then classified as a hurricane, typhoon, or cyclone depending upon where the storm originates in the world. Learn more

Search Our Facts
Get Social

More Information
Did you know?

The main parts of a tropical cyclone are the rainbands, the eye, and the eyewall. Air spirals in toward the center in a counter-clockwise pattern in the northern hemisphere (clockwise in the southern hemisphere), and out the top in the opposite direction. In the very center of the storm, air sinks, forming an "eye" that is mostly cloud-free.


Last updated: 10/10/17
Author: NOAA
How to cite this article

Contact Us