Hurricane season can bring lots of stress to many along the coast, even to some well inland as threats can affect these areas too. It can be a lot and sometimes confusing. What better time than to review or learn the season’s lingo? It will help you understand our tropical weather forecasts and get a better sense of when a situation becomes more urgent (hopefully that won’t be the case this season).
The most important thing you must learn before the season starts is the difference between “watch” and “warning”.
Think of it as when you are cooking: When you have all the ingredients, it is a watch. When you have the dish ready, it is a warning.
A watch means that conditions are possible in the area highlighted within 48 hours. This could be a tropical storm watch, hurricane watch, storm surge watch, etc. If you are placed within a watch, this means this is the time to prepare for the onset of conditions.
A warning is when the threat is imminent. A warning is usually issued when the conditions are expected to worsen within 36 hours. This is when you must complete your preparations. There are times when the warning could be issued and the threats are expected to arrive sooner, like when a storm develops near land. Warnings are issued for tropical storms, hurricanes, storm surge, etc.
Subtropical storms are often seen before the season starts and over the northern Atlantic waters. They are like tropical storms as they can develop over tropical or subtropical waters with a temperature of at least 70 F. They also have a closed circulation, but the difference is in their organization. Usually, their maximum winds occur well far from the center (at more than 60 nautical miles from it) and tend to be messy or, asymmetric. Its rains are usually shifted to the side.
The center of the storm. If you are in the eye, you can see the stadium effect -- where the clouds stack up like a stadium. It is the calmest part of the storm. You can even see the blue sky during the day and the stars at night.
The eyewall is the most dangerous portion of the storm. This is the only area where you will find the winds that are the "strength" of the hurricane, or maximum sustained winds. Winds in this area are measured by Hurricane hunters’ dropping sondes or by satellites if the storm is far away.
Hurricane-force winds weaken the farther you move away from the eye. In just a few miles you can drop a whole category.
Tropical-storm-force winds usually are felt throughout a large swath of a hurricane. But they do not stretch as far as the outer edge of the clouds. These winds are still dangerous but are not the worst of the storm.
These are bands that spiral out of the storm like a pinwheel with water on it. These lines of storms are where tornadoes typically form. It is also where flooding can occur. The bands can create a "training" effect where it just continues to rain in the same place. We saw this in Houston for days after Harvey in 2017.