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What is the difference between a Hurricane, Typhoon, and a Cyclone?

Updated Mon 22 Jan 2024

Hurricanes, typhoons, and cyclones are common natural occurrences all over the world, known to wreak havoc and damage ocean waters and coastal communities.

Many people often wonder what the exact difference between a hurricane, typhoon, and cyclone is, and the answer is quite simple! These extreme rotating weather patterns are the same thing, just with different names in different areas of the world.

Rain cells moving through the WhitsundaysRain cells moving through the Whitsundays.

Named hurricanes when they develop over the North Atlantic, central North Pacific, and eastern North Pacific; typhoons when they develop in the Northwest Pacific; and cyclones when they develop over the South Pacific and Indian Ocean, these natural storm surges form and gain their energy source over warm tropical waters.

Often beginning as tropical storms, once their winds reach 74 miles per hour, their status is upgraded to a hurricane, cyclone, or typhoon. Drawing heat from warm, moist ocean air, the damaging combination of pre-existing weather disturbances, light winds, and condensation of water vapour can turn deadly swiftly, to form a violent weather pattern. 

Wind, rain, unpredictable waves, and flooding may occur as well as damage to the natural environment and buildings within their pathway. The size of a cyclone can vary, sometimes stretching hundreds of kilometres and affecting areas even far beyond its radius. The eye of the storm is known to bear the brunt of the damage, with winds and storm activity worse at the core. Varying with each hurricane, typhoon and cyclone, the duration of storm activity often disperses once the cell reaches a cooler area where it can dissipate - however, not without making itself known along the way!

Hurricane season generally peaks from mid-August to late October, with the Atlantic Ocean experiencing an average of five to six hurricanes per year. The most powerful tropical cyclones on record often form in the Pacific, with cyclone season in Australia’s northern tropics peaking from November to April.

The strongest winds recorded in worldwide hurricanes, typhoons, and cyclones was Hurricane Patricia, which formed in the eastern Pacific off Guatemala in 2015, and recorded winds of 346 kilometres (215 miles) an hour.

Cyclones in Australia

Tropical cyclones threaten all regions of northern Australia every year during the wet season, generally between November and April. On average, Australia experiences eleven cyclones a year, with five of these violent storm cells reaching land. 

The north-western Australian coastline, particularly between Broome and Exmouth, is the most cyclone-prone region in Australia, with approximately five cyclones developing over the warm waters of the northwest coastline. 

Clean up on Whitehaven Beach, following Cyclone Debbie in 2017Clean up following Cyclone Debbie in the Whitsundays, 2017. Image: Whitsunday Times

The northeast coastline, including the Whitsundays, is no stranger to tropical cyclone devastation, with the Category 4 Cyclone Debbie creating destructive and devastating damage to Queensland’s east coast in March of 2017. The wake of the cyclone left many people without power, in addition to causing significant damage to residential and commercial buildings, natural vegetation and agricultural lands, and small business and tourism sectors.

Nonetheless, the local morale and spirit of the Whitsundays community endeavoured to repair the Whitsundays back to its original state - and better than ever!

For more information on the best times to visit the Whitsunday Islands, live chat or call +61 7 4914 2425 to speak with a local travel expert!

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