August 28, 2011

Good night, Irene: Cyclones, hurricanes and typhoons

Trapped inside by Hurricane Irene, I've had time to find you the National Hurricane Center's web page detailing the first names given to storms. Different sets of names are available to be given to a "tropical cyclone," depending on which region of the world's oceans the cyclone originates in. I've been in hurricanes here on the east coast, and I've been in a typhoon in Hong Kong.*

There's a whole taxonomy of big, rotating storms, which you can derive from the glossaries of the National Hurricane Center and the National Weather Service and from various dictionaries.  I don't whether cyclones, tornadoes and whirlwinds can be grouped together based on their natural characteristics; I am just trying to organize the terminology.
  • Cyclones
    • Anticyclones (meh--just a cyclone rotating in reverse)
    • Extratropical cyclones
    • Tropical cyclones (subcategorized according to windspeed, in order of ascending speed:)
      • Tropical depressions
      • Tropical storms
      • Hurricanes; in the western Pacific, called typhoons
    • "Willy-willy" is an Australian (native?) term for a tropical cyclone
  •  Tornadoes (called "cyclones" in the U.S. midwest: Webster's Third)
    • Waterspouts
  • Whirlwinds
    • Dust devils or dust whirls (here's a video of a dust devil on Mars)
    • According to the unabridged Random House Dictionary and Webster's Third, a "violent squall or whirlwind of small extent," apparently on the west coast of Africa, is a "tornado."
A storm in India can be called a "typhoon" also (Random House); and storms archaically were called "tornadoes" (Webster's Third).  If you can suggest other terms for this taxonomy, please do!

* I was in a shopping mall bargaining to get the price down (as one does in that part of the world) on a pair of binoculars.  As he and I reached an impasse, the proprietor of the shop said I had to decide quickly because the shop was closing in 5 minutes.  I looked at him incredulously and asked why, and he said, "Typhoon!"  I didn't know how to respond to such a silly tactic and walked away.  A few hours later I was standing soaked in the typhoon that really did materialize.

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