A tropical cyclone (also referred to as a tropical depression, tropical storm, typhoon, or hurricane depending on strength and geographical context) is a type of low pressure system which generally forms in the tropics.
The term tropical cyclone is a meteorological term for a storm system characterized by a low pressure system center and thunderstorms that produces strong wind and flooding rain.
A tropical cyclone feeds on the heat released when moist air rises and the water vapor it contains condenses.
They are fueled 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. The cyclones have a counterclockwise rotation in the Northern Hemisphere and clockwise rotation in the Southern Hemisphere.
While tropical cyclones can produce extremely powerful winds and torrential rain, they are also able to produce high waves and damaging storm surge.
They develop over large bodies of warm water, and lose their strength if they move over land.
This is the reason coastal regions can receive significant damage from a tropical cyclone, while inland regions are relatively safe from receiving strong winds.
Heavy rains, however, can produce significant flooding inland, and storm surges can produce extensive coastal flooding up to 25 mi (40 km) from the coastline.
Although their effects on human populations can be devastating, tropical cyclones can also relieve drought conditions.
They also carry heat and energy away from the tropics and transport it towards temperate latitudes, which makes them an important part of the global atmospheric circulation mechanism.
As a result, tropical cyclones help to maintain equilibrium in the Earth's troposphere, and to maintain a relatively stable and warm temperature worldwide. Many tropical cyclones develop when the atmospheric conditions around a weak disturbance in the atmosphere are favorable.
Others form when other types of cyclones acquire tropical characteristics.
Tropical systems are then moved by steering winds in the troposphere; if the conditions remain favorable, the tropical disturbance intensifies, and can even develop an eye.
On the other end of the spectrum, if the conditions around the system deteriorate or the tropical cyclone makes landfall, the system weakens and eventually dissipates. A tropical cyclone's primary energy source is the release of the heat of condensation from water vapor condensing at high altitudes, with solar heating being the initial source for evaporation.
Therefore, a tropical cyclone can be visualized as a giant vertical heat engine supported by mechanics driven by physical forces such as the rotation and gravity of the Earth. Worldwide, tropical cyclone activity peaks in late summer, when the difference between temperatures aloft and sea surface temperatures is the greatest.
However, each particular basin has its own seasonal patterns.
On a worldwide scale, May is the least active month, while September is the most active.
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