Weather Whys from Texas A&M

Q: What is the difference between a tropical storm, a depression, a hurricane and a cyclone?

A: The short answer is that they range in strength from mild to catastrophic, says Brent McRoberts of Texas A&M University. “Tropical depressions have a well-defined circulation and can cause heavy rains, and they are classified as having winds no more than 38 miles per hour,” McRoberts explains. A tropical storm is much stronger, containing heavy thunderstorms and high winds of no more than 73 miles per hour. “And then there are hurricanes, which are the strongest winds on Earth. These have winds of at least 74 miles per hour and are classified according to their severity on a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being the strongest. Hurricanes are assigned names for use as a reference point.”

Q: What about cyclones?
A:  Cyclones and hurricanes are virtually the same thing, McRoberts adds. “But where they are formed is the difference. A storm that forms in the Atlantic is called a hurricane and one that forms in the Pacific is called a typhoon, while those formed in the Indian Ocean are cyclones. All are assigned names. Hurricanes, cyclones and typhoons contain winds of from 74 to more than 200 miles per hour and they are the most devastating of all weather events. Hurricanes Andrew (1992) and Katrina (2005) did more than $25 billion in damage to the Florida and Gulf Coast regions and the 1900 hurricane that hit Galveston is still the worst natural disaster in U.S. history, killing at least 6,000 people.”