Do you know a Cat 1 from a Cat 5? Some Key Hurricane Terms

We’re entering what is traditionally the peak for the annual Atlantic hurricane season. The season runs from June 1 to November 30 and includes the Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico.

We’ve prepared a quick guide on all the hurricane terms you need to know to get set for the storms to come.

Tropical disturbance: Typically the first stage in the lifecycle of a hurricane. Tropical disturbances are clusters of showers and thunderstorms with winds less than 30 mph.

Tropical depression: The second phase of hurricane formation, these cluster of thunderstorms and showers include maximum sustained winds near the surface of less than 39 mph.

Tropical storm: This is where things start to get serious. Tropical storms include 39 to 74 mph sustained winds, with gusts that could be higher. At this point, the storm is named.

So far, Andrea, Barry, Chantal and Dorian have all made an appearance. The next named storm will be Erin.

Here’s a list of all the named storms for the 2013 Atlantic hurricane season.

2013 Hurricane Season Names

2013 Hurricane Season Names

Who picks these names? Atlantic tropical storms had been named from lists originated by the National Hurricane Center since 1953. They are now maintained and updated through a strict procedure by an international committee with the World Meteorological Organization.

There are six lists of names that are used in rotation. According to the National Hurricane Center, the names on this year’s list will be used again in 2019. The only time a name is removed is when “a storm is so deadly or costly that the future use of its name on a different storm would be inappropriate for reasons of sensitivity.” Andrew, Katrina, Irene, and Sandy are among the retired names.

Hurricane: We’re not talking about the tropical drink! A hurricane is a severe, rotating tropical storm with winds more than 74 mph. Hurricanes, like its namesake, have origins in the tropical waters.

Eye: The recognizable, circular, low-pressure area of relatively calm winds in the center of a hurricane.


Hurricane Andrew

You can tell a lot from a hurricane’s eye:

• Generally speaking, a smaller eye indicates an intensifying or a very strong hurricane.
• Eyes less than 12 miles wide can trigger what’s called “eyewall replacement cycles.” Simply put, it’s when an outer eyewall develops and strengthens and the inner, original eyewall disappears. Then, the outer eyewall can become the main eyewall, causing the hurricane to intensify anew.
• An eye that grows in size and looks ragged in satellite images often indicates the hurricane is weak or getting weaker.

Eyewall: The ring of dense, very tall clouds that surround the storm’s eye. The heaviest rain and fiercest winds typically take place in the eyewall.

Landfall: Simply put, it’s when the hurricane’s eye meets the coastline. It takes just 1 landfall in a season full of tropical systems to cause widespread damage and destroy lives:
• In 1992, Hurricane Andrew was the only storm to make landfall that year but killed 39. At the time, it was the costliest hurricane in U.S. history – but more destructive ones would follow.
• In 2011, Hurricane Irene was the only hurricane that hit the U.S. that year, yet claimed 45 lives in the U.S. and caused more than $7 billion in damages.


Hurricane Irene

• In October 2012, Hurricane Sandy’s path of destruction took more than 125 lives — mostly from drowning.


Hurricane Sandy
Credit: NASA

Hurricane Watch: Hurricane watches are issued by the National Weather Service (NWS) to indicate hurricane conditions — including heavy rain, tidal flooding and coastal storm surges, and winds of 74 mph or higher — are possible within 48 hours. A hurricane watch means it’s time to prepare to put your plans into action and listen to local authorities for updates.

Hurricane Warning: Hurricane Warnings are announcements issued by the National Weather Service to indicate that sustained winds of 74 mph or higher are expected within the area. It’s the time to put your plans into motion and evacuate if told to do so by local officials.

Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale: This scale classifies hurricanes on a 1 to 5 scale based on wind speed, with 1 being the weakest and 5 being the strongest. Hurricanes do not have to be a Cat 4 or Cat 5 when they hit land to do a lot of damage:
• In 2005, Hurricane Katrina was a Cat 5 at its peak and hit land as a Cat 3.
• In 2012, Hurricane Sandy was losing it tropical characteristics as it hit the U.S., but still produced winds equal to a Cat 2. That storm created $65 billion in damages and 159 people lost their lives.

Storm Surge: An unusual rise in the sea level that can result from a hurricane. As this water comes on land, it often causes flooding that can lead to drowning and extreme damage. The storm surge is often the cause of most flooding along the immediate coast during a hurricane’s landfall.

Storm surge from Hurricane Ike  Credit:

Storm surge from Hurricane Ike

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This entry was posted in Hurricanes.