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Tropical Weather Designations and Terms to Understand

2 weeks ago
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The wrath of Hurricane Beryl and its rapid intensification over the last week has put the spotlight on the 2024 Atlantic hurricane season. Meteorologists have been warning for months that the season is likely to be a record-setting affair. Here are a few of the most commonly used hurricane terms that you should familiarize yourself with as the season ramps up in the Atlantic basin

Types of Storm Designations

Officials with the National Hurricane Center (NHC) use a variety of terms to categorize tropical weather events. The term tropical cyclone is widely used throughout the world to designate any type of tropical depression, storm, hurricane, or typhoon. In specific terms, typhoons are what those in the Northwest Pacific basin refer to as hurricanes while cyclones are what those in the South Pacific and Indian Ocean basins use for this strength of storm. These terms are used to describe any type of cluster of well-organized storms that come together around a center that feeds on the warm ocean waters.

A tropical depression is used in the Atlantic basin to describe a tropical cyclone that features maximum sustained winds of 38 mph or less. Once the system packs winds that hit 39 mph, the term tropical storm is used. This is also when the feature receives its official name from the pre-determined list. Tropical storms describe features with winds measuring between 39 and 73 mph.

Hurricanes are tropical weather features that have sustained winds of at least 74 mph, falling along a more specific continuum of categories ranging from 1 through 5. A major hurricane is the term used to describe a storm with maximum sustained winds of at least 111 mph. This means that Category 3, 4, and 5 storms are referred to as major hurricanes on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale.

However, weather experts caution that a storm can still cause significant damage even if it does not carry the designation of a major hurricane. The Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale was developed in the 1970s to categorize hurricanes as a result of their maximum sustained winds. This wind measurement scale does not consider the actual size of the storm, the primary influencing factor that determines how far the winds extend from the middle. Nor does it consider the potential of dangerous storm surge.


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