Monsoon vs. Hurricane: What Is the Difference Between Them?

Hurricane vs MonsoonTwo of the most common natural phenomena that sometimes result in catastrophic scale disasters are Hurricanes and Monsoon.

There are lots of coinciding factors between the two, such as thunderstorm, rainfall and lightning. But if we go just a bit deep into the monsoon vs. hurricane discussion, you’ll see that it’s not the case.

A monsoon most often comes with torrential rains just like you see during hurricanes or typhoons. Even with characteristic similarities, monsoon and hurricanes are two different natural occurrences at the core.

So, what makes them different while having similarities? Those who are looking for an answer to this question, let’s clear it up.

What you’ll learn:

  • Monsoon and its implications
  • Hurricane and its implications
  • Difference between them

What Is Monsoon?

Monsoon

The word monsoon is derived from the Arabic word “mawsim”, which means “season”.

A monsoon is a period of heavy rainfall that continues for a few months. It starts heavy in the dry months and starts degrading. Eventually, it gets suppressed by the hot weather for a couple of months. And then it starts again. This cyclic behavior gave it a permanent place among the seasons that affect the South-Asian regions.

The monsoon season is also seen in East, Southeast Asia, Oceania, and western sub-Saharan Africa. Even though it happens every year, it doesn’t happen at the same time everywhere, thanks to the earth’s rotation.

What Causes Monsoon?

According to the Nation Weather Station, the monsoon season happens due to the temperature difference between a piece of land and its adjacent ocean.

We know that bodies of land and water warm up differently and at a different rate. This uneven temperature rise results in a tug of war between winds in different directions. The wind direction changes in both the summer and winter seasons.

In summer, cooler and heavier air moves inland. Warm and dry air moves upward, and this cycle ends up creating a low-pressure system which eventually causes rainfall.

The cycle changes direction in winter. Winter monsoon winds move from southeast to the sea, absorbing the hot temperature from the land, leaving it cold and with drier air.

So, technically monsoon is a round-the-year occurrence — just the wind direction changes after every few months. Air flows to the land for a few months, and it weakens slowly over a few months. And the rest of the months, the air flows out to the sea. That is when the sea experiences monsoon.

The winter monsoon might sound unfamiliar to you. You probably even never heard of the term. That’s not surprising since winter monsoon happens only over the ocean.

Regions That Experience Monsoons

Monsoon is always associated with the region of South Asia. Since monsoon always comes with a predictable behavior, it isn’t regarded as unusual weather in this part of the world. But it isn’t the only region that sees monsoon.

The southwestern part of the USA also sees a similar weather pattern. But the severity of the USA’s monsoon is greatly dwarfed by the one in Asia. Even the monsoon in the western sub-Saharan region is greater.

Among these locations, only Asia has seen monsoons every year.

A Hurricane in Monsoon

A Hurricane in Monsoon

This topic doesn’t get researched enough. A hurricane can happen during a monsoon. One of the common mechanisms that cause a hurricane to form is a monsoon trough. Simply, it’s a trough that occurs during a monsoon.

New research says monsoon winds can also push hurricanes westwards. It increases the likelihood of hurricanes getting inside the land area according to The Hindu.

The Dangers of Monsoon

Dangers of Monsoon

While the monsoon season brings about a feeling of joy to a community after a hot summer, it also brings about disasters. Regions with a confirmed monsoon cycle have distinctly wet and dry seasons.

And that makes them highly prone to both floods and droughts. These can be disastrous if the infrastructure is unable to provide people with safety and food.

Here are the potential dangers of Monsoon:

Overflown Drains and Sewers

This is mostly seen in underdeveloped countries with poor drainage and sewer systems. Bad waste management is also another cause since the drains are always clogged up with plastic and other wastes.

Floods Localities

In each monsoon season, rural areas suffer the most. If you have seen the news reports, the problem isn’t the flood, but rather it’s the lack of infrastructure.

Unplanned cities and lack of support during emergencies ensure that people in the South Asian regions such as India and Bangladesh suffer greatly.

Injuries and Loss of Lives

It’d be fine if the damage were only momentary. But some floods become so severe that people get badly hurt. Sometimes the injuries are fatal.

The flood of 1998 in Bangladesh took the lives of hundreds of people. Due to the overflown rivers and streams, water couldn’t move out of the rural areas. Water levels rose so high that people drowned at the places they lived.

Destruction of Crops and Crop Fields

Every flood that comes in washes away crops resulting in lower crop yield. Seasonal floods are somewhat manageable. On the other hand, flash floods are like a nightmare to farmers. Despite the efforts of the farmers and agriculturists to make, the loss of crops is unavoidable.

Due to clogging of water, roots drown and suffocate to death. What’s even worse is that destruction isn’t limited to only current crops. Sedimentation from floods also makes the crop fields unsuitable for planting.

Damages Drinking Water Quality

Another unavoidable result of flooding is the contamination of every open water source.

After floods, bodies of water such as ponds and reservoirs become polluted with all kinds of microorganisms and wastes. You’ll find bacteria, sewage, industrial waste, oil, chemicals, and all the other health-damaging substances you can imagine.

Even private water wells are prone to pollution. If the water rose above the tube wells, those also should be considered unsafe to drink from.

Poor Sanitary Condition

The underdeveloped areas already have poor sanitary conditions to start with. And it becomes a disaster beacon during floods. The spread of waterborne diseases such as Diarrhea, Typhoid, Viral Fever, and Cholera becomes so prevalent that hundreds of people die each year around the world.

That’s not all. An increase in insect bites is observed in the flood-affected regions. Clogged water sources are a breeding ground for insect-borne diseases such as Malaria and Dengue.

Displacement of Whole Communities

In the South-Asian and Southeast Asian regions, floods cause people to leave their homes and move to shelter homes. Sometimes people stay out of their homes for over a month.

Can you imagine living in your home while it gets flooded? It’s hard. What’s even harder is the struggle related to food and unfamiliar living conditions.

Drowning Accidents

Flood causes bodies of water like rivers and ponds to overfill. These are drowning risks and cause a few deaths each year.

According to research, most of the deaths during flash floods are caused by drowning.

Landslides

In mountainous regions, landslides are a common occurrence. And it only increases after floods. The underlying cause of landslides is soil erosion and lack of binders such as tree roots in the soil.

Landslides are deadly, especially when there’s floodwater causing them. In July 2021, Germany saw one of the worst humanitarian disasters in its history with over 1,000 people missing, more than a hundred confirmed deaths, and homes destroyed due to flood-caused mudslides.

Economic Loss and Hampered Economic Activity

Apart from the mental and physical effects of floods on families and communities, countries see a great economic loss. The combined loss of cattle, property destruction, crop destruction, infrastructural damage can sometimes reach up to hundreds of millions of dollars.

People can’t earn their livelihoods, which in turn causes a massive reduction in purchasing power and the loss of goods and crops blow unrecoverable damage to communities and countries at large.

With all those disastrous effects of floods, economic loss is inevitable.

What Is a Hurricane?

Hurricane

Hurricanes are a type of tropical cyclone. You may have called it a typhoon or a cyclone, depending on the part of the world you’re from.

In general terms, a hurricane, aka Tropical cyclone, is a rapidly rotating storm that forms over the tropical oceans. You can identify them by the familiar rotating cloud pattern coming out of the center. It’s better visible on satellite images. You’ll clearly see why they call it the “eye of the storm”.

High winds and low-pressure systems are the two main features of hurricanes. Wind speed is the highest on the outside and extremely low-pressure at the center of the storm.

When Is It Called Hurricane?

All of them are considered tropical cyclones. The term hurricane is reserved for the storms happening over the Atlantic Ocean, the Caribbean, and the northeast Pacific Ocean.

If it happens over the northwest Pacific Ocean, it gets the term “Typhoon”. When it’s over the South Pacific Ocean, it’s called a cyclone.

It’s important to note that the rotation of a tropical storm is different in the northern and southern hemispheres. In the north, it rotates in a counterclockwise direction, and in the southern hemisphere, it rotates in a clockwise direction.

What Causes a Hurricane to Form?

When the ocean’s warm water rises, and there’s little air left over the surface. So air comes in to fill the space. This air starts to warm up and rise as well. The process continues in a cycle.

Thus, a low-pressure system develops over the ocean. This low-pressure system will eventually develop into storms and hurricanes.

The whole process can be divided into a few phases. Here they are:

A Tropical Depression Is Formed

A Tropical Depression Is Formed

The colder air swirling into taking the place of warm air creates the low-pressure system. And the warm air that rose to the top started to cool down, causing clouds to form. A cloud system grows as the warm air keeps cooling down.

Wind speed increases. And as long as the wind speed stays under 38 miles per hour, it’s termed a tropical depression.

A Tropical Storm Is Formed

A Tropical Storm Is Formed

When the wind speed crosses the threshold of 38 miles per hour, we can classify it as a tropical storm. According to the ESCAP/WMO typhoon committee, the wind speed in a tropical storm can vary from 38 mph to 74 mph.

A tropical storm isn’t as severe as a hurricane. But the similarity in destructive abilities can be seen in the coastal areas.

A Hurricane Is Formed

A Hurricane Is Formed

If the situation is right, the wind speed will only increase leading up to a hurricane. When the wind speed goes over 74 miles per hour, it’s classified as a hurricane.

With the wind speeding up, the structure of the hurricane becomes more defined, especially the eye.

Strength Levels of Hurricanes

The strength of hurricanes is determined by the wind speed associated with them. There are 5 levels, according to the Saffir-Simpson hurricane wind scale.

Hurricane Category

Wind Speed in MPH

Potential Destruction Level

Storm Surge Height in feet

1

74-95

Minimal

4-5

2

96-110

Moderate

6-8

3

111-129

Moderately severe

9-12

4

130-156

Extremely severe

13-18

5

157+

Devastating

19+

The Dangers of Hurricane

While the hurricane’s size increase the rate of damage, it’s not the only factor. The topography and population density of a region are also responsible to a large degree for determining the level of damage.

Major hazards associated with a hurricane are storm surge, storm tide, strong winds, heavy rainfall, and flooding. The potential dangers of these hazards are countless.

Storm Surge

The one thing that makes a hurricane deadly is its storm surge, an abnormal rise in sea level. It occurs when winds are strong enough to push the seawater around the coastal areas. These can potentially take out large communities at once.

According to National Weather Service, storm surges can rise over 20 feet and threaten human lives and the environment overall.

AccuWeather’s senior meteorologist Dan Kottlowski reminds us that a storm surge is potentially more damaging due to the large waves containing a huge amount of water. It can mow down buildings after buildings before slowing down.

We all remember Hurricane Katrina and the lives lost during history’s one of the most devastating natural calamities. Almost 1,500 human lives were lost in its wake, according to NOAA.

That’s not all. The aftermath of a hurricane isn’t too pretty. In 2012, another damaging hurricane Sandy’s storm surge, rose to 20-25 feet and moved almost a kilometer inland. With the waves, sea salt flows in, which fills the freshwater bodies making the water undrinkable.

And it’s not a surprise that more than half of the floods we see are caused by storm surges during a tropical cyclone.

Flooded Inland

In 2005, hurricane Katrina produced storm surges that rose over 25 feet above the normal tide level. The coasts of Mississippi and Louisiana saw the worst of it.

And these storm surges cause an extreme level of flooding that can stay inland for a few days or more. Urban areas see the most amount of damage since the drainage system gets overwhelmed with water and there’s no clear exit. We heard the same from Dr. Corene Matyas, an associate professor at the University of Florida.

We know what happens next. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention states that most waterborne diseases spread through flood water since it connects the drinking water sources with the sewage waste. It’s a horrible situation that needs to be navigated well.

Another major cause of death during floods is drowning. When the floodwater is clogged on roads, people have a hard time distinguishing between low roads, ditches, and canals. As a result, people have fallen to their deaths by walking directly into a pond or a canal.

Extreme Winds

Hurricane categories are distinguished by their wind speeds for a reason. All of the disasters associated with a hurricane has only one cause, and that’s the wind.

Houses and other buildings in the coastal areas are rarely left standing when a category 4 or 5 hurricane passes through. According to Dr. Albert Bleakley of the Florida Institute of Technology, the only thing that can protect the cities and communities is the tree line along the coastal region.

Even the lowest level hurricane, a category one with 74 mph - 94 mph wind speed can damage buildings and overturn hurricane proof mobile homes. Even moderately severe wind speeds also topple trees in its path and turn any loose object into flying debris which can result in deaths.

Tornadoes

Where there is extreme wind, there are gusts, and if there are gusts, tornado development is imminent. Yes, tornadoes are partly responsible for the powerful winds inside a hurricane. Research shows almost 20 percent of all tornadoes formed in a year are formed from hurricanes.

For instance, Hurricane Katrina spawned 57 tornadoes that ended up affecting 8 states. The number is 52 for hurricane Harvey back in 2017.

Tornadoes develop in the outer edges of a hurricane, also known as the front quadrant. When the hurricane falls on the land, the increased friction produces twisters.

According to a statement given to the New York Times by Dr. Jana Houser, an associate professor of the Meteorology department at Ohio University say, as long as the hurricane doesn’t make contact with a landmass, tornadoes won’t form.

The surface of the ocean is much smoother hence there’s not enough friction to form twisters.

Yes, compared to hurricanes, tornadoes live shorter lives, and they’re weaker than those formed from supercell thunderstorms over the central plains. Nevertheless, the destructive potential of these tornadoes cannot be pushed aside.

Rip Currents

When waves move away from the shore instead of rushing inland, it’s called a rip current. A rip current moves away from the shore at a velocity of 1-2 feet per second.

This speed is what makes rip currents dangerous. While the danger isn’t as much as a storm surge/tide, it hits the coasts suddenly and takes everything in its path back to the ocean.

A common mistake is not taking rip currents seriously. While rip currents can happen any day of the year, the damage is done mostly when it’s paired with hurricanes.

Beachgoers are among the major victims. And even the strongest experienced swimmers cannot find their way out of these currents. That is why swimmers are warned against being in the water before a hurricane.

According to the United States Lifesaving Association, over 100 human lives are lost to rip currents each year. About 80% of all the rescues performed by the beach lifeguards are victims of rip currents.

Difference Between Monsoon and Hurricane

Here’s a brief comparison table for monsoon and hurricanes.

Characteristics

Monsoon

Hurricane

Definition

A cycle of cold air replacing the warm air

An extreme low-pressure system with high wind speeds

Season

It happens year-round

June- December

Wind speed

1-5 miles per hour

75 miles per hour or greater

Economic effect

Assists agriculture

Devastating

Severity

Mild rainfall to Severe flooding

Severe wind to devastating winds and flooding

Duration

4-6 months

A few hours to a few days

Relation

Monsoon is the cause

Hurricanes are the result

The Duration

The Duration

Tropical cyclones such as hurricanes might be more extreme in terms of damage, they do not usually last for more than a day. Some hurricanes can endure up to a week or two, but it is considered rare. In 1994, Hurricane John sustained almost a month.

On the other hand, monsoons happen all year-round. As we already know, it’s a cyclic process between dry monsoon and wet monsoon. People only refer to the wet season as monsoon, which is obviously incorrect.

Type of System

Monsoons are caused by reciprocation between a high-pressure system and a low-pressure system. But they are not pressure systems by themselves as it’s a static flow of winds. They do not rotate.

Hurricanes are in fact low-pressure systems. They rotate around a single center. In the northern hemisphere, their rotation is counterclockwise. And in the southern hemisphere, hurricanes rotate clockwise.

Effect on the Economy

Effect on the Economy

Monsoons as a regular occurrence can both be deadly to the economy and helpful to the economy. On the one hand, the monsoon brings about a necessary and good amount of precipitation for agriculture. It fills up dried-up ponds, rivers, and canals, which are vital for old ways of farming.

But on the other hand, too much or too little monsoon can destroy everything it was supposed to help grow. Flood and drought are not rare in the riverine regions of the world.

Wind Speed

Wind Speed

A monsoon is technically a wind caused by the movement of hot and cold air. But it doesn’t have any particularly strong winds. It does see a few storms, but the wind during the monsoon isn’t half as strong as the winds of a hurricane. The damage done in monsoon is mostly through flooding.

In a hurricane, winds can reach 250 mph velocity, while the lowest considered hurricane can have 75 mph or greater wind speed. Even the weakest hurricane is strong enough to fatally injure people and damage property. Floods do occur after a hurricane, but the wind is the most damaging factor.

When Do They Occur?

Monsoon, also known as the Rainy season in the subcontinent, occurs from June to September or sometimes October. In other parts of the world, monsoon occurs from September to February. The months that see the most amount of rain are June and July.

On the flip side, Hurricanes, as a natural phenomenon of the Atlantic region, happen only one time of the year. It has been observed that hurricanes happen mostly between May and November. Of course, some exceptions occur outside this fold.

May is the least active hurricane month, while September sees the highest number of hurricane activity.

Basic Tips to Stay Safe from Hurricane and Monsoon

This two devastating natural disaster bring different challenges to overcome. While a monsoon brings a certain benefit to farming and agriculture, a hurricane is never a blessing. Even monsoons can cause the spread of health hazards.

Here’s a basic guideline to stay safe during Monsoon,

  • Read and watch the weather reports to see how the monsoon will behave this season
  • Keep watch for flash floods
  • Keep necessary medicine in stock
  • Have an emergency supply of food and supplies ready
  • Keep a source of fresh clean water or store it inside the house
  • Make a habit of using soaps before each time you touch something and afterward
  • Find a shelter to stay in the state of emergency
  • Stay away from electric poles and wires
  • Take precaution against bugs such as mosquitoes
  • Take an umbrella whenever you go outside
  • Keep the electrical devices turned off unless you need to use them

For farmers,

  • floods caused by severe rainfall will damage crops, so it’s a good idea to harvest earlier
  • Ensure proper drainage for the fields

You’ll take the precautions prescribed above for hurricanes as well. In the case of hurricanes, you need to take things a bit more seriously. Here are a few suggestions,

  • Stay inside your house or apartment and away from the boundary wall
  • Stay alert with local and national weather reports
  • Acquire emergency power sources
  • Don’t drive during a hurricane
  • Don’t stay in a mobile home, lying in a ditch is a better option
  • Tie your home down if yous is a manufactured home
  • Keep the yard and road in front of you clean
  • Ground all movable objects

People Also Ask

What is the difference between monsoon and a tsunami?

Monsoon is generally calm weather with a huge amount of rain. It has dry and wet seasons. It happens most commonly in the South Asian or Southeast Asian region. Monsoon takes place when air moves inland or vice versa.

But a tsunami is a fundamentally different phenomenon. A tsunami means harbor wave. It’s a series of large waves caused by violent activity under the sea, such as earthquakes or eruption of sea-bed volcanoes. It can happen near the coast or deep inside the ocean.

Is cyclone and hurricane same?

There is no factual difference between the two. The only difference is how they are named based on regions. In the North Atlantic Ocean, tropical storms are called hurricanes. But if it occurs over the South Pacific and the Indian Ocean, people know them as cyclones.

What is the difference between rain and monsoon?

Rain is any condensed water falling from a saturated cloud. But monsoon is a wind system that moves from south to north or north to south. Monsoon will cause rain to pour down. So there is a relation between the two. Rain is a characteristic of monsoon, not the other way around.

What are the 2 types of monsoon?

The two types of monsoon are; Summer or dry monsoon and wet and winter monsoon. Heavy rainfall is seen during the summer monsoon.

Can monsoons cause hurricanes?

Multiple atmospheric disturbances can cause a hurricane to develop. Among them, a fairly common reason is the monsoon trough.

Final Words

The fact that monsoon can be beneficial to the environment while a hurricane can only cause suffering is the major difference between them. Despite being developed from a low-pressure system, monsoon is much gentler, while a hurricane is all about its strong winds.

While monsoon is a season, a hurricane is only an occasion of a few days. The only part where the monsoon vs hurricane debate is meaningless is their similarity of being a low-pressure system. And also, they both cause floods. Other than that, there’s no mentionable similarity.

Up Next: 12 animals that can supposedly predict the weather.


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