Tropical Cyclone
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The East Wind roared:—“From the Kuriles, the Bitter Seas, I come,
And me men call the Home-Wind, for I bring the English home.
Look—look well to your shipping! By the breath of my mad typhoon
I swept your close-packed Praya and beached your best at Kowloon!

“The reeling junks behind me and the racing seas before,
I raped your richest roadstead—I plundered Singapore!
I set my hand on the Hoogli; as a hooded snake she rose,
And I flung your stoutest steamers to roost with the startled crows.

(from) The English Flag, Rudyard Kipling

Basic Information

Tropical cyclones - also often called hurricane, typhoon, tropical storm, cyclonic storm, tropical depression or simply cyclone - are devastating rotating storm systems.

In the Western Hemisphere, tropical cyclones are measured on the Saffir-Simpson Scale, based on wind speed and amount of damage the storm does. Other parts of the world use other scales.

up to 62 km/h (38 mph) Tropical Depression
63-117 km/h (39-73 mph) Tropical Storm (system officially becomes a "named storm")
118-153 km/h(74-95 mph) Category 1 Hurricane (No significant damage to building structure; may uproot trees and produce some coastal flooding)
154-177 km/h (96-110 mph) Category 2 Hurricane (May damage roofing material, poorly constructed doors and windows. Mobile homes badly damaged. Small craft may break moorings)
178-209 km/h (111-130) Category 3 Hurricane (Major hurricane; Structural damage to wood frame houses; mobile homes destroyed and roofs peeled off. Major flooding extends far inland.)
210-249 km/hr (131-155) Category 4 Hurricane (Extensive damage to homes; Mobile homes levelled; Major flooding)
over 250 km/hr (156 mph) Category 5 Hurricane (Only the strongest buildings survive.)

In many tropical cyclones, more damage is done by flooding than by wind, due to the storm surge. The intense low pressure of the storm draws up the sea water like a tide, except moving at high speeds. The storm surge, rather than the high winds, are what broke the levees of New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina and levelled the city of Galveston, Texas in the great storm of 1900.

People who live in cyclone-prone areas are often well adapted to the phenomenon and take most cyclones in their stride. For example, Hong Kong has a well-established system of tropical storm warnings, and in the event of the higher-level warnings being raised, more or less everyone gets the day off work. Although it is dangerous to go outdoors (falling scaffolding and signs are a particular hazard), cyclone days become an informal holiday, to be spent at home, or meeting friends in bars and restaurants. Many bars offer free or heavily discounted drinks during typhoons.

At sea, these storms can cause massive devastation to shipping, with a combination of high winds and massive waves - bad enough in the modern era - like 1944 where Typhoon Cobra struck Task Force 38 of the US Pacific fleet, sinking three ships and inflicting damage and casualties to nearly thirty more. In the Age of Sail, such storms could be expected to do significantly more harm.

List of Tropical Cyclones


1. Stormpulse - hurricane tracking website

Game and Story Use

  • Maybe the name for the center of tropical cyclones - the so-called "eye" - is more than a metaphor. Maybe cyclones are strange, gigantic but short-lived creatures that stare out into the vastness of space?
    • Or perhaps the storm is the area of turbulence surrounding a dimensional vortex. The eye could be a gateway into another dimension!
    • One of the pre-baked campaign settings for GURPS involves "Banestorms" which ship things to and fro across dimensions.
    • Also, consider the "Spirit Storms" that featured in the Apocalypse to White Wolf's oWOD (especially the one that ravaged South East Asia when the Ravnos antediluvian awoke).
  • Speaking of "eyes" there is also the phenomenon of the "ox eye" … a small, dark vortex that can sometimes be seen in the sky as a tropical storm is forming. In reality this is simply cloud weirdness … in some settings the weirdness could be a lot weirder.
  • The party atmosphere that descends on Hong Kong's bar areas during a Level 8 storm warning has undertones of Carnival. Links might be fruitfully pursued to a celebration of the ancient gods of storms and the sea.
    • Possibly shades of The Masque of the Red Death as well if the storm at last breaks into the club.
  • The PCs may be trying to help evacuate an area threatened by a storm, or perhaps just trying to get out themselves.
    • A poorly organised response might lead to government abandoning areas without evacuating them properly, leading to anarchy and looting … which might then still be going on when the storm breaks.
  • PCs may be forced to hunt down a target amidst the chaos of a storm - or during the ruinous aftermath or the anarchy that proceeds it.
    • Alternatively, something may wait until the storm has everyone trapped indoors and then hunt them down.
  • Combine the two - PCs must enter a storm zone, moving across government stop lines and against the flow of refugees, secure something or someone and then protect it or them from a variety of threats during the storm before bringing their charge safely back to the quest giver.
  • Perhaps it's too late to evacuate and the PCs must batten down in whatever shelter they can find
    • The classic Humphrey Bogart film Key Largo has just such a setting
  • Storms may also stir up all manner of things from the ocean bed or, conversely, be raised by things stirring up from the ocean bed (like Rhyleh).
  • Likewise they can be used to isolate PCs on islands, move ships with PCs on them huge distances off course and trash practically anything.
  • Powerful magical rituals or the manifestation of supernatural beings may be have storms as a side effect - or even a deliberate consequence.
    • The storm may even be the aura of something especially powerful - which may mean that it won't end until the critter is destroyed or banished.
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