Monday, January 15, 2001

Ask a Stupid Question

Earth's spin determines direction storms rotate

By Jim Knippenberg
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Question: Why do all tornadoes, hurricanes and whirlpools in the water rotate counter-clockwise? And while you're at it, what's the difference between a hurricane and a typhoon?

        Answer: Let's take No. 2 first because it's easier, says U.S. Weather Service senior forecaster Jeffrey Sites: “There really is no physical difference between the two. The only difference at all is that they occur in different parts of the world — hurricanes in the Atlantic Ocean, typhoons in the Pacific.

        “No. 1 is a little more complicated, but I'll try to put it in layman's terms. There is a force called coriolis created by the spin of the earth. That force pushes in a counter-clockwise direction as you go north of the Equator toward the pole.

        “In the southern hemisphere, that same force pushes hurricanes in a clockwise direction.”

        If you have a stupid question, send it to Ask a Stupid Question, Cincinnati Enquirer, 312 Elm St., Cincinnati OH 45202; fax: (513) 768-8330.


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