Characteristics of tropical cyclones

20 September 2023

A tropical cyclone is a rapidly rotating storm that begins over tropical or subtropical oceans, with very violent winds and torrential rain; sometimes accompanied by thunderstorms.  

A tropical cyclone is a rapidly rotating storm originating over tropical oceans from where it draws the energy to develop. It has a low-pressure centre and clouds spiralling towards the eyewall surrounding the "eye", the central part of the system where the weather is normally calm and free of clouds. Its diameter is typically around 200 to 500 km but can reach 1000 km. A tropical cyclone brings very violent winds, torrential rain, high waves and, in some cases, very destructive storm surges and coastal flooding. The winds blow counterclockwise in the Northern Hemisphere and clockwise in the Southern Hemisphere. Tropical cyclones above a particular strength are given names for public safety.

The different terminologies

Different terminology is used for this weather phenomenon depending on the location:

  • In the Caribbean Sea, the Gulf of Mexico, the North Atlantic Ocean and the eastern and central North Pacific Ocean, it is called "hurricane"
  • In the western North Pacific, it is called "typhoon"
  • In the Bay of Bengal and Arabian Sea, it is called "cyclone"
  • In western South Pacific and southeast Indian Ocean, it is called “severe tropical cyclone
  • In the southwest Indian Ocean, it is called “tropical cyclone”. 
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