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These storms all form over warm tropical waters and all can be deadly – but their origin determines their name

Inhabitants walk along a road flooded by the passage of Hurricane Willa in the town of Tecuala, Nayarit state, Mexico

Inhabitants of Tecuala in Mexico navigate a road flooded by the passage of Hurricane Willa, a category 3 storm on the Saffir-Simpson scale.
Photograph: Aaron Garcia/EPA

Hurricanes, typhoons and cyclones may have a lot more in common than you think. They are all intense areas of low pressure and form over warm tropical waters. They can ultimately unleash deadly winds and heavy rainfall, but the defining factor for naming these storms that originate in the tropics is essentially down to where in the world they form.

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Hurricanes are classed as such when a low-pressure system intensifies so that winds of 74mph (119km/h) become sustained around an area of low pressure in the North Atlantic, central North Pacific or eastern North Pacific. The power of a hurricane is rated on the Saffir-Simpson wind scale and has five categories, category 5 being the most intense. The same storm would be called a typhoon if it were to form in the north-west Pacific and would then adhere to a slightly different intensity scale to that of hurricanes. A super-typhoon would be classed as a severe hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson scale (equivalent to a category 3 hurricane) for example. The generic term cyclone or tropical cyclone is used for the South Pacific and Indian Ocean and also follows slightly different intensity scales, depending on the authorities monitoring the storm.