Pacific gets its share of hurricanes, typhoons

The ability of the Atlantic Ocean to churn out destructive hurricanes might create the impression that the majority of the world’s major tropical storms occur in that region.

Anyone harboring this perception would be mistaken.

“There’s loads of hurricanes in the western Pacific (Asian half), more than in anywhere else in the world,” said Cliff Mass, a professor of atmospheric sciences at the University of Washington.

“We don’t hear about them because they don’t hit the United States.”

All rotating storms are called cyclones, according to the National Hurricane Center in Miami. In one of the oddities of the weather business, those generated in the Atlantic and eastern Pacific — nearest North America — are called hurricanes and those in the western Pacific Ocean are called typhoons.

From 1981 to 2011, an average of about 30 cyclones sprung up every year in the Pacific, compared with only 6.4 in the Atlantic, according to a chart compiled by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. These storms are defined as having sustained winds greater than 33 meters per second, or about 74 mph.

Most of the typhoons are in the western Pacific because that half of the ocean is warmer, Mass said. Warmer currents tend to run up the western half of the oceans, in the Atlantic as well, he said.

As to why the Pacific is warmer than the Atlantic, it’s not clear, Mass said.

“It’s probably due to the size of the ocean. But (we’re) not sure,” he said.

Hurricanes don’t happen on the West Coast of the United States because the ocean water is too cold, Mass said.

Even farther south, such as in California and Mexico, the water is not warm enough for hurricanes, he said.

Hawaii doesn’t often get hit by hurricanes but did get a large one in 1992, Iniki. Six deaths were attributed to the storm and damage estimates ranged up to $2 billion.

The storm occurred during a strong El Nino year, in which the ocean temperature is higher than usual.

Storms that move into the Pacific Northwest are “cold-core” storms and generated by a contrast in temperatures — warmer to the south and cooler to the north, Mass wrote in his weather blog. While these can be destructive, they’re not marked by the tight spiral pattern of cyclones, and they start farther north.

Sometimes, a storm will start out as a cyclone and, as it moves north, becomes a cold-core storm — as has happened with Sandy, according to Mass.

“Many tropical storms weaken when they go through this transition, but for a small subset the opposite occurs,” he wrote in his blog on Sunday. “The two energy sources work synergistically for a while, resulting in a strengthening and expanding system … such is the forecast fate of Sandy.”

The Columbus Day storm of 1962, which killed about 50 people on the West Coast from California to British Columbia, started out as Typhoon Freda in the Pacific. By the time it came ashore, its gusts reached as high as 150 mph and the storm caused the equivalent of more than $1 billion in today’s money.

Still, the Columbus Day storm is not exactly the same type as Sandy, though the result was similar, Mass said.

“It started way away, weakened and got strong again,” he said.

Bill Sheets: 425-339-3439; sheets@heraldnet.com.

Glossary

Cyclone: A closed-circulating storm rotating counterclockwise in the Northern Hemisphere and clockwise in the Southern Hemisphere.

Tropical cyclone: A warm-core cyclone, originating over tropical or subtropical waters, with wind circulation around a well-defined center. Once formed, a tropical cyclone is maintained by pulling heat from the ocean at high temperature. They differ from extratropical cyclones, which derive their energy from temperature contrasts in the atmosphere.

Hurricane or typhoon: A tropical cyclone with winds of 74 mph or more. The term “hurricane” is used for Northern Hemisphere tropical cyclones east of the International Dateline to the Greenwich Meridian. The term “typhoon” is used for Pacific tropical cyclones north of the equator west of the International Dateline.

Source: National Hurricane Center

More in Local News

Minutes mattered the day Pat Ward was brought back to life

The Mukilteo police and fire chaplain died at breakfast. She got a second chance thanks to a waitress.

Cool additions at an elementary school in Everett

A totem pole and new gardens grace the courtyard of Whittier Elementary School.

Kids suspected in school’s smashed windows and other damage

The cost of the damage at Explorer Middle School in south Everett is estimated to be $5,000.

Recall issued for about 1,250 pounds of meat

Camano Island’s Sausage Haus products might be contaminated.

3 women seek open seat in 39th District

The GOP nominees hope to fill the opening created by the resignation of Republican John Koster.

Lake Stevens High senior has an entrepreneurial mind

John Cramer crafts and sells designer pens to help pay for college

Marysville-Arlington fiber-optic link planned by Comcast

The high-speed internet line, to be ready next year, is seen as a boost for business development.

Second former student files abuse claim against teacher

The woman says Cascade High School’s Craig Verver had sexual contact with her on campus.

Boy stuck in child care instead of going to school

District says it can no longer provide transportation for the special-needs student.

Most Read