Hurricane Rina is currently a category 2 storm, but it will intensify to category 3 Wednesday as it heads towards Cancun, Mexico. With winds currently breaking 110 miles per hour, Rina's projected path takes it over the Yucatan state, where residents have stocked up on supplies and closed resort towns and fishing villages, according to USA Today.
Residents of the town of Punta Allen, about 115 miles from the popular tourist city of Cancun, were taken to emergency shelters. Additionally, the area of Banco Chinchorro, which is low-lying and therefore prone to flooding, was evacuated on Tuesday.
There are currently more than 80,000 tourists in Yucatan, State Tourism Director Juan Carlos Gonzalez Hernandez told USA Today, nearly half of them residing on the coast line.
In the case of Cozumel, which could be hit hardest, people are leaving of their own accord and are cutting their reservations short, said Gonzalez Hernandez.
A hurricane warning has also been issued for the country of Belize, which is directly under the storm's current path. A number of cruise ships have diverted their voyages for safer seas.
These types of large storms are seasonal, running almost exclusively between the spring and the new year. So far, there have been a number of major storms across the world, including Hurricane Irene, which slammed the Caribbean and traveled up the East Coast of the United States, and Typhoon Roke, which pounded the coast of Japan.
What's the difference between a typhoon, a cyclone and a hurricane?
Technically, all three are categorized under the umbrella-term Tropical Cyclone. But just as a square is a rectangle, but a rectangle is not a square -- the distinction between these three types of storms vary in the details. The difference lies not in any meteorological difference, but in the geographical difference. (Contrary to popular belief, the designation has nothing to do with a storm's rotation. Clockwise or counter-clockwise, it doesn't matter.)
On the simplest level, a hurricane is a tropical cyclone that occurs east of the International Date Line (toward the Atlantic), and a typhoon is a storm that happens on the other side of the Date Line in the west Pacific.
This name-discrepancy is largely a product of culture. The Japanese word to describe such massive storms is taifu, and there are similar sounding words in Chinese, Hindi and Arabic. Similarly, the word hurricane relates both to a Mayan god, Huracan, and the Taino Indian god Juracán.
But, there are actually seven distinct regions, each with its own tropical cyclone classification terms. The North Indian Ocean, South West Indian Ocean and Australia regions all use various forms of cyclone, the most severe storms called Super Cyclonic Storm, Very Intense Tropical Cyclones and Severe Tropical Cyclones, respectively.
In two of the Pacific regions, storms are classified as typhoons, however one storm-tracking agency employs Super Typhoon, while the other doesn't. Again, anything originating in the Atlantic Ocean is a hurricane.
Making matters more complicated, there are more-minor tropical cyclones have different distinctions as well, and tropical storms, tropical depressions and cyclonic storms are all less-severe forms of the same thing.
All of this has been made official by Disaster Controlled Vocabulary set up by various networks, such as the Caribbean Disaster Information Network.
The severity of a tropical cyclone is labeled according to the Saffir-Simpson Scale, which grades according to wind speed and storm surge. Surge is the essentially the height of a wave, or the measured rise of water due to the storm. The Saffir-Simpson system does not take into account the physical size of a storm, nor the amount of precipitation.
The tropical cyclone scale ranges -- low to high -- from category one to category five. Anything lower than category one, which begins at 74 miles per hour winds and a 4-foot surge, isn't considered either a hurricane or a typhoon. Each category rises incrementally in both qualifiers, until it reaches category five, which is designated by winds of over 156 miles per hour and ocean swells above 18 feet.
Despite the fact that hurricanes and typhoons are technically the same thing, typhoons, historically, can be much more powerful than hurricanes. The strongest hurricane ever was Hurricane Wilma in 2005 (during the season that included Hurricane Katrina) with winds reaching 185 miles per hour.
The strongest typhoon ever was Typhoon Tip in 1979, during which winds topped out at over 300 miles per hour. This again is related to geography: the Pacific Ocean is simply larger than the Atlantic, giving the storm more time and room and to grow in intensity.