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What Is a Hurricane?

A hurricane (or typhoon, or severe tropical cyclone), the strongest storm on Earth, is a cyclonic (rotary) storm that derives its energy from cloud formation and rainfall, unlike frontal cyclones that derive their power from a temperature gradient.

A hurricane begins as a tropical depression with a sustained wind speed of less than 39 mph (35 knots; 63 km/hr). As the system strengthens, it becomes a tropical storm with winds from 39 to 73 mph (35-63 knots; 63-118 km/hr). Tropical storms are named in the Atlantic, East, Central and Northwest Pacific, in the South Indian Ocean, and in the Arabian Sea. When the winds are sustained (based on a one-minute average) at 74 mph (64 knots; 119 km/hr), the storm becomes: In the Atlantic Ocean, East Pacific, Central Pacific (east of the International Dateline) and Southeast Pacific (east of 160°E) a Hurricane; in the Northwest Pacific (west of the International Dateline) a Typhoon; in the Southwest Pacific (west of 160°E) and Southeast Indian Ocean (east of 90°E) a Severe Tropical Cyclone; in the North Indian Ocean a Severe Cyclonic Storm; and in the Southwest Indian Ocean (west of 90°E) a Tropical Cyclone.