In this morning’s (November 2nd) live-video report of New York Times, the caster asked a guest commentator if the tropical storm Sandy can be classified as a hurricane because there are many others who say it’s not hurricane, but a strong storm. The commentator answered "It’s definitely Hurricane, not a storm."

Actually the same NY-Times carries an article captioned “Toll rises amid Storm recovery” next to the video report, while showing pictures under the caption, “Hurricane Sandy Aftermath” in other corner, and, its co-ed columnist Paul Krugman wrote “Polls show overwhelming approval for Mr. Obama’s handling of the storm, and a significant rise in his overall favorability ratings,” in his article, “Sandy Versus Katrina” appearing in NY-Times on November 4th.

AP News on Nov. 5 says “There are a plenty of demands and some desperation for gasoline in New York and New Jersey and surrounding areas where people try to recover from the recent storm,” and the same day’s NY-Times also carries the headline, “A scramble to help those displaced by storm cast ballots.”

What is the difference between Hurricane and Strong or Super storm, and additionally Typhoon, so that I can explain to my granddaughter in a single, or few words, without going into lengthy meteorologist’s wordings? We have Storm and Typhoon, but not hurricane in our country. Do they differ by strength, affected regions, or other plain criteria?

Which was the one that buoyed the votes for re-election of President Obama at the last minutes of the race, “Hurricane” or “Super storm” Sandy?

  • 1
    Pretty sure "superstorm" is used whenever people want to be able to brag about their having been in a hurricane even though they weren't in a hurricane.
    – Tortoise
    Commented Nov 6, 2012 at 1:07

3 Answers 3


Which term is appropriate for a weather pattern at sea depends on location (generally Atlantic, Pacific, Australian) and on sustained wind speeds, as explained below. Briefly, hurricanes and typhoons have windspeeds of at least 74 mph (ca. 119 km/h). The storms are of the same character under either name; such storms in the Atlantic or the Northeast Pacific are called hurricanes, and if elsewhere in the Pacific are typhoons except where they are severe tropical cyclone or storms. Terminology details are given below.

The following information is quoted from topic A5, “What is a tropical disturbance, a tropical depression, or a tropical storm?” and topic A1, “What is a hurricane, typhoon, or tropical cyclone?” in the NOAA FAQ.

The terms "hurricane" and "typhoon" are regionally specific names for a strong "tropical cyclone". ... Tropical cyclones with maximum sustained surface winds of less than 17 m/s (34 kt, 39 mph) are usually called "tropical depressions"... Once the tropical cyclone reaches winds of at least 17 m/s (34 kt, 39 mph) they are typically called a "tropical storm" or in Australia a Category 1 cyclone and are assigned a name. If winds reach 33 m/s (64 kt, 74 mph), then they are called:
• "hurricane" (the North Atlantic Ocean, the Northeast Pacific Ocean east of the dateline, or the South Pacific Ocean east of 160E)
• "typhoon" (the Northwest Pacific Ocean west of the dateline)
• "severe tropical cyclone" or "Category 3 cyclone" and above (the Southwest Pacific Ocean west of 160°E or Southeast Indian Ocean east of 90°E)
• "very severe cyclonic storm" (the North Indian Ocean)
• "tropical cyclone" (the Southwest Indian Ocean)

The term Superstorm has been attached to Sandy, partly because of the amount of damage it caused and partly because of the several factors that combined to make it so damaging.

As KitFox notes in a comment, a storm need not be rotationally organized, while the terms hurricane, typhoon, and cyclone specifically refer to strongly-rotating weather patterns.

  • 2
    Also that hurricanes and typhoons are organized windstorms, usually with a defined eye and a characteristic rotational pattern. A "strong storm" need not have this pattern, and severe thunder- or rainstorms often cluster in straight or crescent-shaped bands.
    – Kit Z. Fox
    Commented Nov 1, 2012 at 23:25
  • Oh and a "superstorm" is distinct from a supercell thunderstorm, which is a type of severe and very destructive thunderstorm.
    – Kit Z. Fox
    Commented Nov 1, 2012 at 23:27
  • @Yoichi Oishi When you have told all this to your granddaughter, do come back and let us know. :)
    – Kris
    Commented Nov 2, 2012 at 14:19
  • Just to complicate matters a bit, I note that in the midwestern United States, "cyclone" is commonly used as a synonym for "tornado." Thus, the Iowa State University athletic teams call themselves the Cyclones not because they mean to conjure the image of massive, hurricane-like Indian Ocean storms, but because tornadoes (by another name) are among the most powerful natural phenomena in the state. Likewise, L. Frank Baum called the tornado responsible for the start of Dorothy Gale's adventures in The Wizard of Oz a "cyclone." (Kansas is just a bit south and west of Iowa.)
    – Sven Yargs
    Commented Feb 11, 2013 at 4:05

Here’s my try, according to:

. . .that I can explain to my granddaughter in a single, or few words, without going into lengthy meteorologist’s wordings?

Typhoon and hurricane are the same thing in English. In other languages — take Spanish, for example — they have only one word, which is normally huracán (hurricane) but sometimes ciclón tropical (tropical cyclone) in science writing.

The difference between this and storm (note that big storm keeps being a storm, but bigger) is quite clear, as a hurricane or typhoon is like an arrangement of thunderstorms that produces stronger effects than a simple storm.

So this would be the answer: a hurricane is the same as a typhoon, and both are technically called a tropical cyclone, which is a spiral arrangement of storms.

Note that a big storm could also be referring to a hurricane in some contexts.


If you look at the dictionary entries for hurricane, you will see that the definitions do not wholly agree.

The most rigorous definition requires (constant) wind speeds of over 74 mph, restricted regions for origin, and restricted directions of travel.

The loosest (literal - there are metaphorical usages) definition (given as the most fundamental sense in Collins) requires only that a 'severe storm' be involved.

Taking the strict, meteorological sense, qualifying storms are further graded into five classes using the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale (Category 5 being the fiercest). Storms below hurricane strength but still severe are known as 'tropical storms'.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.