Now that fall has started officially (accompanied by some very autumnal weather) it looks like summer is going to creep back into the region. The cold low pressure center which brought the unsettled chilly weather is moving through the Rocky Mountains and is leaving a building ridge of high pressure over the Great Basin. High temperatures will continue to bounce back, rising to the upper 70s Saturday, the 80s Sunday and Monday, and could hit 90 by Tuesday before falling back the rest of the week.
Some time back I received a wonderful letter from Vernon Latshaw, a World War II vet who served time aboard a battleship in the Pacific. He asks: “Why does the western Pacific have Typhoons, while the western Atlantic has hurricanes… and what distinguishes the two?” It’s purely a matter of semantics. There’s nothing meteorologically to distinguish the two…both are tropical cyclones with sustained winds at or above 74 mph. But just like languages change from one part of the world to another, different peoples gave their major storms different culturally relevant names.
But trying to trace the origin of the word “typhoon” isn’t as straightforward as I thought. Apparently no one knows for sure the exact provenance of the term, except the odds are it is of Chinese Origin. “Daaih fung” (Cantonese) and “da feng” (Mandarin) are both translated as “Great Wind”, and it makes sense that early travelers would adopt a sound-alike name for the great storms in the China Sea. But The Greeks have “Typhon”, who was the god of wind, and that was subsequently borrowed by the Arabs (“tufan”), so it’s true origin is a bit muddled.
I figured that hurricane would be a little more straightforward. I was wrong.
Scholars think that “hurricane” comes from one of two different terms. According to Francis Jock, one source might be the Spanish term “huracn,” which draw’s its origins from a Carib term for “God of Evil.” That makes sense on the surface. But the Mayans also had a storm god by the name of “Hurakan,” an eerily similar sounding word.
Interestingly enough, western use of the term probably came from Spanish explorers, and they might have gotten it from either group. Columbus would have had contact with the Carib speaking people on the northern coast of South America, and later Spanish shipwreck survivor Gernimo de Aguilar was rescued after spending a couple of years with the Mayans, and becoming fluent in their language.
It seems when it comes to weather term origins, it’s never easy.