I am, at this very moment, writing to you amid the formation of the sixth typhoon in the last three months to threaten the general area around Korea. For those of you counting, that’s one every other week, or two a month. Three of those six merely brushed past us dumping lots of water and the other 50% missed us completely. But the newest meteorological villain, Typhoon Prapiroon, formed today over the sea due east of the Philippines with winds gusting upwards of 100 kph and still growing.

Braving the Elements

Bracing for the impact of a typhoon in Asia isn’t a far cry from what North Americans do every year about this same time when preparing for a hurricane; schools close, people stock up on food, stay indoors, and in extreme cases they board up windows and sometimes even evacuate. As I said before, I’ve seen it a few times so far but whether or not Prapiroon will evoke similar reactions as its predecessors, only time will tell. If it’s path stays north, then yes; if it turns east or west, we’ll most likely be spared yet again.

My first question about typhoons was: How are they different from hurricanes? And from what I’ve gathered after many hours (minutes) of extensive (marginal) research (…I googled it) into storms (cyclones), the only difference I’ve been able to determine about a storm’s particular label is location. Hurricanes and typhoons occur on the opposite sides of the international date line – yes that is the only distinction. I was floored by such a useless reason to give two different names for what is essentially one, single phenomenon.

My second question was: Why do hurricanes spin clockwise while typhoons spin counter-clockwise? And for the answer to that question we must look much more deeply into the rabbit hole. When Mr. Newton developed his laws of inertia, one of these physical rules had to do with the apparent change in direction across a curved surface, specifically that of the Earth. That ‘fictitious’ force is known as The Coriolis Effect.

Counter Clockwise-Rotation of a Typhoon

Due to the rotation of the planet, air currents within our atmosphere are deflected easterly creating one motion (free moving, so at different velocities than the actual rock itself) but the air also moves between low and high pressure at the same time. As that air moves from a high-pressure area to a low-pressure area, the planet’s rotation beneath it creates a curved path. In the Northern Hemisphere, wind deflects to the right of its direction of motion. In the Southern Hemisphere, wind deflects to the left.

The Coriolis Effect

Just as in North America, hurricane season falls between July and November, so too does typhoon season fall in the Orient. In addition to typhoons, the last three weeks (give or take a week) in Korea are designated monsoon season. Oh gosh. Another weather word…

My third question was: What the hell is a monsoon and how is it different from a typhoon? That answer isn’t quite so difficult to track down. A monsoon is not at all like a typhoon – mostly confused because of the OON at the end of their names. While a typhoon is a hurricane that occurs west of the International Date Line, a monsoon is the label for precipitation created by seasonal changes in atmospheric pressure. Typhoons (and hurricanes) are known by their incredible wind speeds and cyclonic pattern while monsoons are just really, really wet. Other than the OON, the trait they both share is their love in forming over large bodies of water, sucking in as much moisture from the sea as possible, and literally dumping their load (all that water) up and down the coastlines of Asia.

Another strange meteorological occurrence that has happened recently in Japan, isn’t meteorological at all; its seismic  Tsunamis (as most of you remember from your own junior high school science classes) are huge waves that crash into the shore because of an earthquake. To give you a rough idea the waves generated by the 3.1 magnitude earthquake reached altitudes of 133 feet! Surfers are lucky if they experience waves that are 20 feet high. When waves of 133 feet roll onto the shore and crash down on top of homes and cars, flooding down streets and highways, the devastation is immense. The water can travel miles in-land from the coast and in the case of Japan, the waves rolled in 6 miles and destroyed 130,000 buildings while damaging close to a million more.

2011 Japanese Tsunami

So I’ve survived one damp (and humid) monsoon season only to be dumped right into the typhoon season that follows. But we’re surviving (rest assured, I am safe and sound) through the cyclones that even though begin as category 5 storms are consistently downgraded to 4s and then 3s long before they reach us – if they make it this far at all. Public schools have been closed a couple times, but we at the private academies remain diligently at work, instructing the few students who show up braving the wind and rain,

…and writing blogs (shhh!!!).

Which brings us to my fourth and final question, which was: If the Coriolis Effect alters the direction of storms in the air, does it have an effect on the direction water runs down the drains in sinks or in flushing toilet bowls? The answer is no as I was very disappointed to discover. Snopes debunked that theory because the truth is that water drains (or flushes) in whatever direction the shape of the porcelain bowl (or angle of the jets) pushes it. And I really thought toilets ‘down undeh’ flushed counter-clockwise like typhoons. Oh well, guess we won’t see that episode of Mythbusters anytime soon.

Until Next Time, this science lesson has been brought to you by: the letter C and the number 23

-Justin

TRANSLATIONS/ETYMOLOGY:

Monsoon – The English monsoon came from Portuguese monção, but ultimately from Arabic mawsim “season”.

Typhoon – The English word typhoon originated from Persian toofaan from the verb Toufidan, meaning “to roar” – a cyclonic storm. It also appears to be related in pronunciation to the Chinese word for “great wind” as spoken in southern Chinese dialects such as Cantonese.

Tsunami – The term tsunami comes from two Japanese Kanji: tsu (meaning ‘harbor’) and nami (meaning ‘wave’).

Jangma – Korean translation for ‘plum rain‘, the name given to the rainy period also known as the East Asian Rainy Season which commonly takes place for 3-4 weeks in mid-summer.

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