A cyclone is a weather system characterized by swirling winds and raging storms. Around the equator, a cyclone is particularly threatening because of its potential to damage property and bring torrential rains, even more so if it turns into a hurricane. The science behind cyclones will help you understand why, where and how this weather phenomena exists.
Hurricanes, Cyclone, Typhoons and Tornadoes
People often confuse hurricanes, cyclones, typhoon and tornadoes. Often the terms are interchanged in different parts of the world. The National Earth Science Teachers Association explains that a cyclone is an area of strong winds circulating around an area of low-pressure. The winds travel in the same direction as the Earth in the Northern Hemisphere, and the opposite direction in the Southern Hemisphere. A hurricane is a cyclone with winds exceeding 74 miles per hour, while a tornado is created from thunderstorms and the wind tunnel is much narrower. A typhoon is the name for a cyclone in the northwest Pacific region.
The National Weather Service defines a tropical cyclone as "a rotating system of clouds and thunderstorms that originated over tropical or sub-tropical areas." Typically, these areas are near the equator, including the East Pacific Ocean, Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico. One of the most severe cyclones occurred in 1970 in the Caribbean, killing 1 million people. As warm air rises above the sea and turns into clouds, lots of energy is released. This creates a severe storm, and can turn into a cyclone when combined with winds and moving areas of low pressure.
A mesocyclone is a dense, swirling pack of cloud and winds between half a mile and six miles wide. To the eye, it looks like a thin, vertical band of black clouds that spins from beneath thunderclouds. A mesocyclone turns into a tornado if it hits the ground and continues to churn up wet, warm air. The United States experiences approximately 1,700 mesocyclones a year, with 50 percent of these turning into tornadoes.
Polar or Arctic Cyclones
Arctic or polar cyclones occur in Antarctic regions and can reach up to 1,200 miles wide. Polar cyclones differ with others because they are not seasonal. They can occur at any time of the year, unlike in the Gulf of Mexico when during late summer, the risk of a hurricane increases. Polar cyclones can also form quickly (sometimes less than 24 hours), and their direction or movement cannot be predicted. Plus, they can last from a day up to several weeks. Most frequently, polar cyclones develop above northern Russia and Siberia.
Cyclones that are in between the tropical cyclone band and polar areas have different names. For example, sub-polar or subtropical terms are used to categorize them. Typically, however, the cyclones form in the same way. The variables are the wind temperature, predictability and durability. Those nearer the Arctic Circle are colder, more unpredictable and random in movement and can last for short and very long periods of time.