Saturday, January 22, 2011

Stormy Weather

Sarah asked about the names that we give to major storms. Among other things, she wondered about the difference between a hurricane and a typhoon. The Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory indicates that winds which surpass 74 miles per hour are named by their location:

  • "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 (the Southwest Pacific Ocean west of 160E or Southeast Indian Ocean east of 90E)
  • severe cyclonic storm (the North Indian Ocean)
  • tropical cyclone (the Southwest Indian Ocean)”

The etymologies of the words that we use to designate violent storms are interesting.

  • cyclone: from the Greek κύκλος circle (or κυκλῶν moving in a circle, whirling round).
  • hurricane: from the Carib word variously given as huracan and furacan.
  • tornado: may have resulted from a misspelling of the Spanish tronada, ‘thunderstorm,’ modified to reflect the Spanish tornar to turn or return, in order to emphasize the turning winds.
  • typhoon: the Oxford English Dictionary suggests an amalgam of sources leading to different versions: (1) the Urdu ṭūfān, a violent storm of wind and rain; (2) the Arabic ṭāfa, to turn round; (3) the Greek τῡϕῶν, typhon; (4) and the Chinese tai fung, big wind.

SIDEBAR: Stormy Weather

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