Hurricane Irene as it appeared by satellite Aug. 24 over the Bahamas.
Depending on the location and strength, an incoming storm could be called a hurricane, typhoon or cyclone. The difference between the three names is just that: it’s all in the name. Hurricane is a general term for a tropical storm that forms in the Atlantic Ocean or eastern part of Pacific.
The Japanese Meteorological Agency takes over tracking the storms in the rest of the Pacific, the Indian Ocean and South Pacific. Under their watch, these major storms are categorized as typhoons. Tropical cyclones are another term for both hurricanes and typhoons.
Tropical storms form in regions where the ocean is warm and the air is warm and moist. Warm temperatures encourage water to evaporate and when it rises, it condenses, forming clouds. The condensation produces heat, causing the water vapor to rise faster. Wind is pulled in to replace the rising air. Because Earth is spinning under the storm, it rotates. All cyclones in the Northern Hemisphere rotate counterclockwise.
A hurricane is usually organized into bands (sometimes called "rainbands" or "feeder bands"), as well as into an "eyewall" encircling the center of the storm. The eyewall is where some the strongest winds occur. These winds circle the eye of the hurricane where calmer, but still very warm air exists.
In North America, hurricanes can travel from just off the coast of Africa toward the Caribbean, the Gulf of Mexico and East Coast of the United States.