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Typhoon or hurricane? Depends on who you ask

Living for several years in the western Pacific during the early '70s, we had spinning winds called typhoons, even a typhoon season was recognized. At that time the storms in the Atlantic were called hurricanes. Apparently things have changed and now we have hurricanes in both the Atlantic and Pacific. What’s up with this? Just sayin’. — Ellen C., by email

Ellen, we spun right around and checked into your question. What we found, from the weather experts at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, is that the only difference between a hurricane and a typhoon is the location where the storm occurs.

You're right about the use of the word "hurricane" in both the Atlantic and the Pacific, but it's only for a portion of the Pacific. According to NOAA, the term "hurricane" is used in the Atlantic and eastern and northern portions of the Pacific. The same type of storm is called a “typhoon" in the South Pacific and Indian Ocean.

But why are they called by different names? Because they are called that by different people. According to our research, if one of these storms occurs somewhere between 180 degrees West and the West Coast of the United States, it's called a hurricane. That's probably because the National Hurricane Center in the United States is responsible for tracking these storms. West of that point, they are tracked by the Japanese Meteorological Agency, which gives them its own name, "typhoon."

To be classified as a hurricane or typhoon (or cyclone, but that's another story) a storm must reach wind speeds of at least 74 miles per hour.

Send questions to “Since You Asked,” Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501; by fax to 541-776-4376; or by email to youasked@mailtribune.com. We’re sorry, but the volume of questions received prevents us from answering all of them.