Commentary

November 27, 2013

Anatomy of a cylone; why California is safe

With the recent typhoon that devastated the Philippines, we print this article to calm the nerves of those who may be fearful of the same happening here and to educate others. Californians enjoy a relatively stable and predictable weather pattern most of the year. Although our major concern is earthquakes, we watch in awe and empathy when catastrophic events occur throughout the world, the most recent being typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines.

So, why don’t we have them here?

Typhoons and hurricanes are tropical cyclones, with the only difference being their locations on the earth. Those in the west Pacific are called typhoons while the storms in the Atlantic and east Pacific Ocean are called hurricanes.

Both storm systems are actually similar weather phenomena, although their strength may vary according to atmospheric conditions present and certain other factors related to their epicenters. Hurricanes and typhoons originate in the oceans from 10 to 30 degrees away from the equator.

The terms distinguish the different parts of the world in which they occur. Hurricane is used in the Atlantic, Caribbean Sea, central and northeast Pacific near the Gulf of Mexico and America. Typhoon is the name convention in the northwest Pacific, near Asia. The term cyclone is used for storms over the Indian Ocean and southwestern Pacific Ocean near Africa and Australia.

Both typhoons and hurricanes rotate counterclockwise in the northern hemisphere and clockwise in the southern hemisphere. Typhoons are generally stronger than hurricanes because of warmer water in the western Pacific which creates better conditions for development of a storm. This unlimited amount of warm water also makes for increased frequency of typhoons. Even the wind intensity in a typhoon is stronger than that of a hurricane but they cause comparatively less damage or loss due to their location. Heavy winds, floods, storm surge, a lot of rain and tornadoes are characteristics of both.

The frequency of hurricanes may be about 10-15 per year while typhoons may occur 25-30 times a year. Hurricanes are found east of the International Date Line near the tropical zone, over warm waters in the Atlantic and Pacific Ocean. Typhoons occur in the northwest Pacific Ocean, west of the International Date Line.

Although typhoons may occur more often, hurricanes are more because they occur in the United States where the vast amount of destruction is caused to infrastructure and populated areas. Although they are capable of tremendous damage, destruction and loss of life, they do not pose a threat to California as the geographic, atmospheric and moisture conditions on the west coast are not conducive to these events.

California’s ocean waters are just too cold. Tropical cyclones usually require very warm water, at least 80 degrees Farenheit, extending to a depth of 50 meters. Waters off California rarely range between 62 and 75 degrees. The most we can expect in our area will be storm-like conditions with heavy rain and strong winds.

So, while we may dodge the bullet on hurricanes and typhoons, we must ensure we stay educated, prepared and vigilant to the dangers that exist in our own area and when the call comes, help those in need to the extent that we are able.




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