A quick primer on the common weather event

By Coastal Living
May 22, 2018


When hurricane season arrives each June, it brings with it weather reports and warnings—not only about hurricanes, but also about tropical storms. But what’s the difference between the two? Read on for a quick primer in tropical storms and links to information on how to prepare for weather warnings.

Merriam-Webster defines a tropical storm as “a tropical cyclone with strong winds of over 39 miles (63 kilometers) per hour but less than hurricane intensity.” In fact, there’s only a small difference between a tropical storm and a Category 1 hurricane. According to Weather.com, “The technical difference is just 1 mph between maximum sustained winds of 73 mph for a tropical storm and 74 mph for a hurricane.”

Tropical storms and hurricanes are also known as tropical cyclones because of the swirling, cycling movement of warm wind and moisture through the air. They form when warm air rises and creates an area of low air pressure near the surface of a body of water. The movement of the rising warm air and incoming surrounding air begins to rotate and continues to grow as the storm moves over the water. Once the speed of the spinning winds reaches 39 mph, it is categorized as a tropical storm.

With a Category 1 hurricane, the next level of intensity, wind speeds can range from 74 to 95 mph. The results of these storms are usually restricted to property damage and brief power outages, though injuries can occur, especially when airborne debris is involved. Category 1 hurricanes are so called because the classification system is based on a wind scale known as the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale, and the categories—1, 2, 3, 4, and 5—increase as the storm’s wind speeds increase.

For more information on hurricane categorization, characteristics, and expected damage, read What Does Hurricane Category 1, 2, 3 . . . Really Mean? For information on preparing for such weather events, be sure to reference our article Preparing for a Hurricane. When it comes to weather warnings, preparedness is key, and preparedness begins with educating yourself on potential weather threats and the ways in which you can protect yourself and your family.