Hurricane, typhoon, cyclone: formation and destructive power

Tropical cyclones such as hurricanes, typhoons and cyclones destroy the livelihoods of numerous people every year. With Wind speeds of up to 380 kilometers per hour they hit the coasts of North and South America, Africa and Asia and have devastating consequences.

Hurricanes cause severe damage to infrastructure and destroy food sources. This is especially dramatic when poor countries and population groups are affected by the effects of the storms anyway. Caused by the Climate change, hurricanes are on the rise.

By Targeted disaster preparedness and acute emergency relief after severe storms, Malteser International ensures that the livelihoods of people in affected areas are maintained and rebuilt. Your donation supports our worldwide disaster preparedness and emergency relief activities.

Hurricane types and occurrences: the different designations

"Hurricane" is one of several names for a tropical cyclone. The exact name depends on the region where the whirlwind originates. The term hurricane, for example, refers only to cyclones on the coasts of North and South America. Besides their different names depending on the region, the storms also occur at different times of the year occur more frequently. You can see the types of hurricanes and their occurrence in the following table.

Hurricane type

Region of formation

Season and occurrence

Northern Atlantic Ocean, North Pacific Ocean, Caribbean Sea, Gulf of Mexico

All year round in the Pacific, peak season between August and September; in the Atlantic between early June and late November

All year round, peak season in August and September

Indian Ocean, Southwest Pacific, Arabian Sea, Bay of Bengal

Year-round, peak season in May and June and October and November

Indian Ocean off Indonesia and northern Australia

Early January to late March

By the way: Tornadoes and hurricanes are also strong storms, but tornadoes do not form over the sea and hurricanes occur entirely outside the tropics. Therefore, tornadoes and hurricanes do not count as tropical cyclones.

At what wind strength and speed are we talking about a hurricane??

Destruction caused by hurricanes

The high wind speeds of hurricanes cause great destruction in the affected regions and rob many people of their livelihoods.

To distinguish between a tropical depression, a storm and a cyclone, the Wind strength crucial. For example, a wind speed of 118 km/h or more is a tropical cyclone, whereas a tropical storm is between 63 to 118 km/h and a tropical depression is between 8 to 62 km/h. Cyclones such as hurricanes can be divided into five categories based on their intensity.

intensity of hurricanes – category 1 to 5

119 to 154 km/h

155 to 177 km/h

178 to 210 km/h

211 to 249 km/h

How hurricanes form?

Hurricane formation

Infographic by Aktion Deutschland Hilft: Formation of hurricanes

Hurricanes, typhoons and cyclones are predominantly formed over the water at a water temperature of at least 26.5 °C. Large amounts of water evaporate, and warm and humid air rises. As a result, thunderclouds form. An air pressure gradient within the storm causes air masses near the earth to move toward the center of the storm. Due to the earth’s rotation, hurricanes, cyclones or typhoons with a diameter of several kilometers finally into a rotation. Hurricanes over the sea can then move toward the mainland and cause flooding and considerable damage there.

If hurricanes occur more frequently due to climate change?

Due to increasing Water temperatures far in excess of 26.5 °C, as can be seen in the Atlantic Ocean, among other places, the risk of hurricanes is also increasing. Record temperatures of over 30 °C in the Atlantic due to climate change may lead to an increase in hurricanes, cyclones and other cyclones in the future. Climate scientists do not yet agree on whether the accumulation of strong storms in recent years provides a glimpse into the future or is merely to be regarded as an outlier, but warm ocean temperatures caused by the Climate Change increase, a decisive factor in the formation of hurricanes and their intensity increases. The year 2020 is considered a record hurricane year, and the 2021 hurricane season has already begun earlier than usual. India, for example, has already been hit by successive severe cyclones "Trauktae" and "Yaas" in May 2021.

Warning and predictions for the formation of hurricanes

Officially, the hurricane season begins on 1. June of a year. The National Hurricane Center, which is responsible for monitoring and forecasting hurricanes, has begun issuing regular hurricane warnings in 2021 as early as mid-May, however, because tropical cyclones have usually occurred before the official start in recent years.

As soon as a hurricane has formed, meteorologists can Calculate the storm’s development for up to ten days in advance. Data from weather stations on the ground, on ships, from aircraft or satellites provide information about the intensity and wind speed of the hurricane. Similarly, statistics of past hurricanes as well as complex simulations – taking into account physical laws – are used to predict the behavior of the storm. Thus, at least in part, statements about the destructive power of hurricanes are possible, so that appropriate protective measures can be taken.

The destructive consequences of hurricanes and other cyclones

Typhoon Haiyan was devastating in 2013, with more than one million people losing their homes

Typhoon Haiyan was devastating in 2013: more than one million people lost their homes.

The destructive force of the cyclones feeds on their wide diameter, which can amount to several kilometers, and the extreme wind speeds. Hurricanes often result in heavy rainfall, high wind speeds and storm surges, and can cause catastrophic destruction through landslides and flooding.

Often, homes or even entire villages are damaged or completely destroyed, leaving many people homeless. This is particularly devastating for already Weak regions and populations. These often lose their entire livelihood due to hurricanes.

Damage to overhead power lines, drinking water sources, and sanitation facilities often causes water supplies to break down. The likelihood of contracting typhoid, cholera or malaria then increases rapidly, especially in tropical and poorer countries.

Major hurricanes in recent years

Every year, people are affected by hurricanes, cyclones and typhoons and their often dire impacts and damage. The following is a list of some of the most devastating hurricanes of recent years.

  • Hurricane "Katrina" (2005) in the Caribbean and on the east coast of the United States: 1836 dead
  • Cyclone "Nargis" (2008) in Myanmar: 84.500 dead
  • Typhoon Haiyan (2013) in the Philippines: 6.166 dead
  • Cyclone "Idai" (2019) in Mozambique: over 700 dead

The 2020 season was one of two hurricane seasons recorded so far in which the established number of 21 names for tropical cyclones within one year was not enough. To name tropical cyclones, the U.S. Weather Service compiles six lists every six years, each with 21 names. This number is usually enough for one year. In 2020, due to the high number of tropical cyclones, an important pillar of our humanitarian letters of the Greek alphabet had to be used. For the seventh year in a row, the 2021 hurricane season began before the official start on 1. June.

People will continue to suffer the effects of hurricanes in the future. It is not only the intensity of the cyclone that matters, but also how well prepared the population is. Help us to provide active disaster preparedness on the ground and to be able to help people also in the next crisis.

Cyclones where Malteser International was in action

Distribution of relief goods after cyclone

After Cyclone Nargis in Myanmar, we distributed essential relief supplies to the people.

As part of our disaster relief, we were on the ground with our partner organizations in the aftermath of the following severe hurricanes:

  • Cyclone "Yaas" (2021) in India/Bangladesh: After the second hurricane in a short period of time for the region, first responders from our local partners Mukti Foundation, COAST Trust and Gonoshasthaya Kendra were on the ground with immediate relief efforts against the storm surge.
  • Cyclone Amphan (2020) in India: Together with our local partners, we initiated emergency relief measures to counter the effects of the heavy rains. In particular, the world’s largest refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar was threatened by the devastation and additionally by COVID-19 infections.
  • Typhoon "Kammuri" (2019) in the Philippines: Around 80.000 people had to be accommodated in evacuation facilities. To support people in the reconstruction efforts, we donated cash and in-kind vouchers worth 50.000 € to the people affected.
  • Hurricane "Dorian" (2019) in the Bahamas: After the severe hurricane of the highest category 5, of which more than 70.000 people were affected, we helped our local partners provide relief supplies and emergency shelter and coordinate relief efforts. We also supported the reconstruction of schools.
  • Cyclone "Idai" (2019) in Mozambique: An emergency relief team was on the ground for two months immediately after the disaster and provided emergency relief measures to prevent the outbreak of a cholera epidemic, among other things.
  • Typhoon "Mangkhut" (2018) in the Philippines: Shortly after the natural disaster, we were on site to distribute food and household items and to start up a water treatment plant.
  • Hurricane "Harvey" (2017) in Houston: After the flooding caused by the hurricane, our mission consisted of initiating relief measures in order to provide the best possible support to the relief forces on site.
  • Hurricane Matthew (2016) in Haiti: After the magnitude 4 hurricane, our response team was on the ground providing much-needed emergency relief, especially in the hardest-hit slums.

Our outreach before and after hurricanes, typhoons and cyclones

Inclusive disaster preparedness

In disaster preparedness, we educate people about risk and what to do in an emergency to prepare them for future disasters.

To mitigate the devastating effects of hurricanes and other tropical cyclones Disaster Preparedness an important pillar of our humanitarian work. In this way, we want to better prepare the population for future natural disasters so that they do not become a humanitarian catastrophe. Together with the people in affected regions, we identify risks in the environment, set up Emergency plans up and prepare Protective and evacuation measures for the emergency case of a hurricane before. In doing so, we inclusion of all people, especially disadvantaged population groups and people with disabilities, very important. Before the arrival of a hurricane, as many people as possible should be evacuated. This can be trained in advance so that behavior in an emergency becomes routine.

The Continuing education and equipment for local disaster preparedness as well as training and operational exercises help save lives in an emergency and reduce the impact of hurricanes. This includes people on site to drinking water and sanitation and be trained in hygiene practices in the event of a disaster.

In case of disaster we help with the distribution urgently needed relief supplies, with preventive measures in the area of hygiene and if necessary with Mobile medical care teams. In our disaster preparedness projects, we rely on the help of local people and respond where help is needed most urgently. In order to be able to continue to provide these measures, we depend on your helpSupport our disaster preparedness efforts with your donation to help us prepare people in threatened regions for hurricanes and save lives.

Common questions

Where hurricanes form?

Hurricanes form over tropical seas from water temperatures of 26.5 degrees Celsius. Two-thirds of these tropical cyclones form in the northern hemisphere, but also occur in the western Atlantic, northern Pacific, Indian Ocean and southwest Pacific off Australia. Depending on the region where they occur, they are called hurricane, typhoon, cyclone or willy-willy.

Why are there more and more hurricanes??

The year 2020 is considered a record year for the occurrence of hurricanes. So not only were there an unusually high number of hurricanes this year, they also occurred earlier, extended longer into the year and were more severe. The year 2021 is already another record year as well. One reason for this is in climate change, since this Warming of the seas and in some cases causes the water to rise to record temperatures of over 30 degrees Celsius.

Disaster Preparedness

Disaster Preparedness

Preparedness can save lives: We identify risks and prepare people for natural disasters.

Emergency aid in the event of a crisis

Emergency aid in the event of a crisis

In crisis situations such as natural disasters or armed conflicts, we provide fast and effective emergency aid.

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