Based in the beautiful city of Gulf Breeze in the Florida panhandle, the professionals at Complete know from first-hand experience that it is only a matter of time before a hurricane strikes somewhere along the coast of the United States.
The two most important things any of us can do to prepare for this eventual event is to be prepared with supplies and a plan, and to stay informed. The following definitions and resources will give you a good understanding of the terms used to describe the various stages of tropical storms and the agencies that track them.
Tropical Weather Facts and Resources
“Tropical Cyclone” is a generic term for a low pressure system that usually forms in the tropics. The cyclone is composed of powerful thunderstorms, and in the Northern Hemisphere, a counterclockwise circulation of winds near the Earth’s surface. In the North Atlantic Ocean, the Northeast Pacific Ocean east of the dateline, or the South Pacific Ocean east of 160E, Tropical cyclones are also called hurricanes, tropical storms, and tropical depressions, depending upon intensity. In other regions of the world, these types of storms have different names.
- Typhoon – the Northwest Pacific Ocean west of the dateline
- Severe Tropical Cyclone– the Southwest Pacific Ocean west of 160E or Southeast Indian Ocean east of 90E
- Severe Cyclonic Storm – the North Indian Ocean
- Tropical Cyclone – the Southwest Indian Ocean
The Atlantic hurricane season begins June 1 and ends November 30. The East Pacific hurricane season runs from May 15 through November 30, with peak activity occurring July through September.
A HURRICANE WATCH issued for your part of the coast indicates the possibility that you could experience hurricane conditions within 36 hours. This watch should trigger your family’s disaster plan, and protective measures should be initiated, especially those actions that require extra time such as securing a boat, leaving a barrier island, etc.
A HURRICANE WARNING issued for your part of the coast indicates that sustained winds of at least 74 mph are expected within 24 hours or less. Once this warning has been issued, your family should be in the process of completing protective actions and deciding the safest location to be during the storm.
The Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale is used to measure the hurricane’s present intensity, one through five. This is used to give an estimate of the potential property damage and flooding expected along the coast from a hurricane landfall. Wind speed is the determining factor in the scale, as storm surge values are highly dependent on the slope of the continental shelf in the landfall region. Learn more…
In the Atlantic, Caribbean, Gulf of Mexico and the Eastern Pacific, the NOAA National Hurricane Center issues tropical cyclone warnings, watches, advisories, discussions and statements for tropical cyclones. The National Centers for Environmental Prediction Hydrometeorological Prediction Center (NCEP HPC) provides back-up for the National Hurricane Center.
In the Central Pacific, the NOAA Central Pacific Hurricane Center issues tropical cyclone warnings, watches, advisories, discussions and statements for all tropical cyclones in the Central Pacific from 140 degrees west longitude to the International Dateline.
NOAA Satellite Services Division – provides real-time access to satellite data and products for the public and government. The satellites provide NOAA scientists with tools to monitor sea surface temperatures as well as development of tropical cyclones.
NOAA Aircraft Operations Center “Hurricane Hunter” aircraft and their crews may be best known for their prowess in flying through and around nature’s severest storms over the Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico. However, these flying meteorological stations also prove their mettle on the West Coast and over the Pacific Ocean – after hurricane season has ended and severe Pacific winter storms have begun. Missions flown by the airplanes of the Aircraft Operations Center support NOAA’s mission to promote global environmental assessment, prediction and stewardship of the Earth’s environment.
NOAA Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory’s mission is to conduct a basic and applied research program in oceanography, tropical meteorology, atmospheric and oceanic chemistry, and acoustics. The program seeks to understand the physical characteristics and processes of the ocean and the atmosphere, both separately and as a coupled system. The lab is home to the NOAA Hurricane Research Division.
NOAA National Weather Service local Weather Forecast Offices operate Doppler radars to track tropical cyclones as they approach the coast of the US as well as monitoring weather conditions both at the surface and in the upper atmosphere. The Weather Forecast Offices provide a vital role during hurricane situations by taking the high level watch/warning and storm information issued by the Hurricane Centers and add local details and impact information.
The local Weather Forecast Offices issue Hurricane Local Statements which provide details of the storm’s impact on the area such as the onset of winds, rainfall, storm surge, and preparedness actions. They also provide information on evacuation notices and location of emergency shelters, which is provided to them by local officials. The Weather Forecast Offices also closely coordinate with local, county and state emergency management and decision makers. In addition, the Weather Forecast Offices operate NOAA Weather Radio transmitters, providing 24 hour official weather information.
NOAA National Data Buoy Center operates and monitors weather and sea conditions from a network of offshore and coastal buoys.
NOAA National Ocean Service Center for Operational Oceanographic Products and Services (CO-OPS) collects and distributes observations and predictions of water levels and storm tides. The Center manages the National Water Level Observation Network (NWLON), and a national network of Physical Oceanographic Real-Time Systems (PORTS) in major U.S. harbors.
NOAA’s Hydrologic Information Center monitors flooding and river conditions, issuing flood outlooks and summaries.