Hurricane Prep Week 2023: Tropical Terminology You Need to Know

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17 May 2023 11:00 AM

Tropical Terminology:

In the Earth's oceans, tropical waves can become potential tropical cyclones, which can eventually develop into tropical storms and hurricanes.  They can transition into extratropical cyclones and weaken to remnant lows. So what do all of these tropical titles mean? A TROPICAL WAVE is a loosely organized area of lower pressure and thunderstorms.  These originate over Africa and move west across the Atlantic Ocean.  Tropical waves often develop into tropical cyclones …

TROPICAL CYCLONE is a generic term---used to describe an organized, warm-core low pressure system.  Tropical depressions, tropical storms, and hurricanes are examples, each with varying intensity.

A POTENTIAL TROPICAL CYCLONE describes a disturbance that is not fully formed, but poses a threat of tropical storm or hurricane conditions to land within 48 hours.

HURRICANES, TYPHOONS, AND CYCLONES…These are the same kind of tropical system.  The only difference is their name, based on where they form.

A POST-TROPICAL CYCLONE is exactly what you think:  a storm that loses its tropical characteristics.  

These can also be called REMNANT LOWS, which have calm winds and little-to-no thunderstorm development … Or EXTRA-TROPICAL CYCLONES. When a storm moves away from the warmer waters of the tropics, its energy source transitions to the contrast of warm and cold air masses.

SUB-TROPICAL CYCLCONES have both tropical and extratropical characteristics. Because of their hybrid nature, these storms often form outside of the typical Atlantic hurricane season, including all of the "A" named storms from 2015 through 2019. No matter what type of tropical system is threatening, count on WeatherNation to bring you the latest forecast. 

Rapid Intensification:

By definition, rapid intensification means a tropical cyclone has quickly gained strength, its maximum winds increasing at least 35 miles per hour within 24 hours. In 2021 alone, there were 5. In the record setting 2020 season … 8 storms. Most notably Hurricane Laura and Hurricane Ida both underwent rapid intensification right before slamming into the Louisiana coastline.  

Hurricane Laura strengthened from a Category 1 to a Category 4 storm with winds at 150 mph in just one day! The strongest hurricanes to have hit the country in the last 100 years have been tropical storms less than 3 days prior stressing the short timelines of preparedness.

According to Dr. Phil Klozbach, “Storms that rapidly intensify, the wind threat obviously goes way up, but also the storm surge threat can increase dramatically as well. So when you’re looking in terms of evacuations and people getting prepared for these storms, it’s critical to know, as far in advance as possible, what kind of intensity you’re going to be looking at.”

Prediction of rapid intensification has come a long way recently, but still remains a challenge.  Large scale computer models struggle to understand small scale storm movements. Computer models struggle to understand small scale changes in storm ingredients and life cycle that come together for major impacts on storm strength. 

Bonus: True or False

  1. Similar to tornadoes, hurricanes are rated based on damage? 

  2. Hurricanes are around 300 miles wide on average?

  3. Wind speed is always the same on either side of a hurricane’s eye?

  4. No hurricane has ever crossed the equator?

  5. Hurricane season for the Atlantic basin peaks in July?

  1. False, hurricanes use the Saffir Simpson scale which classifies tropical systems based on maximum wind speed. The Saffir Simpson scale does not count for flooding, storm surge, or tornadoes. 

  2. True, however they can be much larger. In 1979 super typhoon Tip had a diameter of 1,380 miles which is nearly half the width of the lower 48.

  3. False, hurricanes are often very asymmetrical and typically, the right front quadrant has the strongest wind speed. 

  4. True, although many speculate that a strong enough hurricane could pass the equator. There’s no record of it happening. 

  5. False, the most active time for tropical systems in the Atlantic is mid September.

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