A tropical cyclone is a rapidly rotating storm system characterized by a low-pressure center, a closed low-level atmospheric circulation, strong winds, and a spiral arrangement of thunderstorms that produce heavy rain. Depending on its location and strength, a tropical cyclone is referred to by names such as hurricane, typhoon, tropical storm, cyclonic storm, tropical depression, and simply cyclone. A hurricane is a storm that occurs in the Atlantic Ocean and northeastern Pacific Ocean, a typhoon occurs in the northwestern Pacific Ocean, and a cyclone occurs in the south Pacific or Indian Ocean
In addition to strong winds and rain, tropical cyclones are capable of generating high waves, damaging storm surge, and tornadoes. They typically weaken rapidly over land where they are cut off from their primary energy source. For this reason, coastal regions are particularly vulnerable to damage from a tropical cyclone as compared to inland regions. Heavy rains, however, can cause significant flooding inland, and storm surges can produce extensive coastal flooding up to 40 kilometres (25 mi) from the coastline. Though their effects on human populations are often devastating, tropical cyclones can relieve drought conditions. They also carry heat energy away from the tropics and transport it toward temperate latitudes, which may play an important role in modulating regional and global climate.
At the center of a mature tropical cyclone, air sinks rather than rises. For a sufficiently strong storm, air may sink over a layer deep enough to suppress cloud formation, thereby creating a clear "eye". Weather in the eye is normally calm and free of clouds, although the sea may be extremely violent. The eye is normally circular in shape, and is typically 30–65 km (19–40 mi) in diameter, though eyes as small as 3 km (1.9 mi) and as large as 370 km (230 mi) have been observed
A tropical cyclone's primary energy source is heat from the evaporation of water from the ocean surface, which ultimately recondenses into clouds and rain when the warm moist air rises and cools to saturation. The energetics of the system may be idealized as an atmospheric Carnot heat engine. First, inflowing air near the surface acquires heat primarily via evaporation of water (i.e. latent heat) at the temperature of the warm ocean surface (during evaporation, the ocean cools and the air warms). Second, the warmed air rises and cools within the eyewall while conserving total heat content (latent heat is simply converted to sensible heat during condensation). Third, air outflows and loses heat via infrared radiation to space at the temperature of the cold tropopause. Finally, air subsides and warms at the outer edge of the storm while conserving total heat content. The first and third legs are nearly isothermal, while the second and fourth legs are nearly isentropic. This in-up-out-down overturning flow is known as the secondary circulation. The Carnot perspective provides an upper bound on the maximum wind speed that a storm can attain.
The passage of a tropical cyclone over the ocean causes the upper layers of the ocean to cool substantially, which can influence subsequent cyclone development. This cooling is primarily caused by wind-driven mixing of cold water from deeper in the ocean with the warm surface waters. This effect results in a negative feedback process that can inhibit further development or lead to weakening. Additional cooling may come in the form of cold water from falling raindrops (this is because the atmosphere is cooler at higher altitudes). Cloud cover may also play a role in cooling the ocean, by shielding the ocean surface from direct sunlight before and slightly after the storm passage. All these effects can combine to produce a dramatic drop in sea surface temperature over a large area in just a few days
The formation of tropical cyclones is the topic of extensive ongoing research and is still not fully understood. While six factors appear to be generally necessary, tropical cyclones may occasionally form without meeting all of the following conditions. In most situations, water temperatures of at least 26.5 °C (79.7 °F) are needed down to a depth of at least 50 m (160 ft); waters of this temperature cause the overlying atmosphere to be unstable enough to sustain convection and thunderstorms. Another factor is rapid cooling with height, which allows the release of the heat of condensation that powers a tropical cyclone. High humidity is needed, especially in the lower-to-mid troposphere; when there is a great deal of moisture in the atmosphere, conditions are more favorable for disturbances to develop. Low amounts of wind shear are needed, as high shear is disruptive to the storm's circulation. Tropical cyclones generally need to form more than 555 km (345 mi) or five degrees of latitude away from the equator, allowing the Coriolis effect to deflect winds blowing towards the low pressure center and creating a circulation. Lastly, a formative tropical cyclone needs a preexisting system of disturbed weather. Tropical cyclones will not form spontaneously. Low-latitude and low-level westerly wind bursts associated with the Madden-Julian oscillation can create favorable conditions for tropical cyclogenesis by initiating tropical disturbances
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