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The Difference Between a Typhoon and a Hurricane

Vol. III, No. 61

Typhoon Haiyan just before it hit the Philippines.

Typhoon Haiyan just before it hit the Philippines.

Typhoon Haiyan, which struck the Philippines over the weekend, will go into the history books as one of the strongest tropical cyclones ever to make landfall. Its sustained winds (not gusts) reached 200 mph shortly before it came ashore. The storm surge, due to winds that strong, rose to nearly 25 feet in the worst hit locations. That would make it neck deep in the attic of a two-story home. Virtually any structure would collapse under those circumstances long before the water could rise so high.

So what is a typhoon? It is the name for a hurricane in the western Pacific. Meteorologically speaking, there is no difference. Both are classified as tropical cyclones by weathermen.

Locally, we got lucky this year. Hurricane Irene caused great damage in August of 2011. Super Storm Sandy, in October 2012, caused historic flooding. But this year we seem to have escaped untouched by tropical cyclones. The tropics are quiet at the moment in the Atlantic. The end of November officially closes hurricane season for us. Risk diminishes as we approach the finish line. We are lucky by comparison.

The Philippines took a devastating hit, probably an unimaginable one. The news will be grim as it emerges. Communication needs to be restored before accurate reports can come out of the hardest hit areas. Survivors who have had all food, water, medical help and shelter erased will no doubt perish before help can arrive.

Assembling aid is the easy part. Delivering it to those in urgent need is far more challenging. It takes roads and vehicles. Both were destroyed.

News from the Philippines over the next few weeks will not be pretty.