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Satellite photograph of Typhoon Tip

A tropical cyclone is a storm system characterized by a large low-pressure center, a closed low-level circulation and a spiral arrangement of numerous thunderstorms that produce strong winds and heavy rainfall. Tropical cyclones feed on the heat released when moist air rises, resulting in condensation of water vapor contained in the moist air. They are fuelled by a different heat mechanism than other cyclonic windstorms such as nor'easters, European windstorms and polar lows, leading to their classification as "warm core" storm systems. Most tropical cyclones originate in the doldrums near the Equator, approximately 10 degrees away.

The term "tropical" refers to both the geographic origin of these systems, which form almost exclusively in tropical regions of the globe, as well as to their formation in maritime tropical air masses. The term "cyclone" refers to such storms' cyclonic nature, with anticlockwise rotation in the Northern Hemisphere and clockwise rotation in the Southern Hemisphere. Depending on its location and intensity, a tropical cyclone may be referred to by names such as "hurricane", "typhoon", "tropical storm", "cyclonic storm", "tropical depression" or simply "cyclone".

Pictured: Typhoon Tip

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Structure of a hurricane
In meteorology, a tropical cyclone is a storm system with a spiral arrangement of thunderstorms, and a closed circulation around a center of low pressure, fueled by the heat released when moist air rises and condenses. The name underscores their origin in the tropics and their cyclonic nature. They are distinguished from other cyclonic storms such as nor'easters and polar lows by the heat mechanism that fuels them, which makes them "warm core" storm systems.

Depending on their strength and location, there are various terms by which tropical cyclones can be described, such as tropical depression, tropical storm, hurricane, and typhoon.

Tropical cyclones can produce extremely high winds, tornadoes, torrential rain (leading to mudslides and flash floods), and drive storm surge onto coastal areas. Though the effects on populations and ships can be catastrophic, tropical cyclones have been known to relieve drought conditions. They also carry heat away from the tropics, an important mechanism of the global atmospheric circulation that maintains equilibrium in the environment.

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Hurricane Emily.jpg

Hurricane Emily (2005) near peak intensity on July 16, 2005. This image was captured by MODIS on the Terra satellite.

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Currently active tropical cyclones

Italicized basins are unofficial.

North Atlantic (2019)
No active systems
East and Central Pacific (2019)
No active systems
West Pacific (2019)
No active systems
North Indian Ocean (2019)
No active systems
Mediterranean (2018–19)
No active systems
South-West Indian Ocean (2018–19)
No active systems
Australian region (2018–19)
No active systems
South Pacific (2018–19)
No active systems
South Atlantic (2018–19)
No active systems

Last updated 10:07, 16 April 2019 (UTC)

Did you know…

Hina Mar 16 1985 0319Z.png
  • …that according to an unofficial reanalyisis using the Dvorak technique, Cyclone Hina (pictured) had a peak intensity of 170 kt (195 mph, 315 km/h)?
Onil 02 oct 2004 0928Z.jpg

Tropical cyclone anniversaries

TC Rosita.jpg

April 19,


April 20,

  • 1997 - Typhoon Isa (pictured) reached its peak intensity with winds of 270 km/h (165 mph) to the west of the Mariana Islands. Isa passed south of Guam, where it caused beneficial rainfall.
  • 2017 - Tropical Storm Arlene intensifies from a subtropical depression, making it one of only two systems in the Atlantic to form in the month of April.

April 21,

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