Major storm systems over Europe frequently have a tropical origin. This paper analyses the characteristics and dynamics of such cyclones in the observational record, using MERRA reanalysis data for the period 1979-2013. By stratifying the cyclones along three key phases of their development (tropical phase, extratropical transition and final re-intensification), we identify four radically different life cycles: the tropical cyclone and extratropical cyclone life cycles, the classic extratropical transition and the warm seclusion life cycle. More than 50% of the storms reaching Europe from low latitudes follow the warm seclusion life cycle. It also contains the strongest cyclones. They are characterized by a warm core and a frontal T-bone structure, with a northwestward warm conveyor belt and the effects of dry intrusion. Rapid deepening occurs in the latest phase, around their arrival in Europe. Both baroclinic instability and release of latent heat contribute to the strong intensification. The pressure minimum occurs often a day after entering Europe, which enhances the potential threat of warm seclusion storms for Europe. The impact of a future warmer climate on the development of these storms is discussed.