Tropical cyclones typically form over large bodies of relatively warm water. They derive their energy through the evaporation of water from the ocean surface which ultimately recondenses into clouds and rain when moist air rises and cools to saturation. This energy source differs from that of mid-latitude cyclonic storms such as nor'easters and European windstorms which are fueled primarily by horizontal temperature contrasts. The strong rotating winds of a tropical cyclone are a result of the conservation of angular momentum imparted by the Earth's rotation as air flows inwards toward the axis of rotation. As a result they rarely form within 5 of the equator. Tropical cyclones are typically between 100 and 2,000 km in diameter.
Tropical refers to the geographical origin of these systems which form almost exclusively over tropical seas. Cyclone refers to their cyclonic nature with wind blowing counterclockwise in the Northern Hemisphere and clockwise in the Southern Hemisphere. The opposite direction of circulation is due to the Coriolis effect.
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