Weather Workshop: Tropical Terminology

Weather Workshop: Tropical Terminology
Hurricane Terminology (Source: NOAA)

MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) - With NOAA releasing their hurricane outlook today, we’re just 11 days away from the start of hurricane season.

While today’s weather workshop does not include an actual experiment, it does include terminology that you should know before we enter the hurricane season. This terminology will become critical as the First Alert Weather Team tracks incoming storms and the knowledge of each term could keep both you and your family safe during the season itself.

Watch vs. Warning

One of the most misinterpreted things these days is something as simple as a watch and a warning. While they might be hard to remember, it’s important you know the differences before any storm forms.

A WATCH is issued with conditions are possible within a certain time frame. Examples include tropical storm winds are possible over the next two days, a severe storm is possible this afternoon or even heavy rain is possible overnight.

A WARNING is issued when conditions are expected or ongoing. A tornado warning is issued when a tornado is expected or has been reported. A hurricane warning is issued when hurricane force winds are expected. A flood warning is issued when flooding is ongoing. A warning is the typically the time to take action during those short duration events.

However, during a hurricane, most action plans get going during a Tropical Storm Watch. Remember, it’s hard to get those hurricane preparedness plans or action plans going once winds reach tropical storm force.

Here's the difference between a tropical storm and hurricane watch.
Here's the difference between a tropical storm and hurricane watch. (Source: WMBF)

A TROPICAL STORM WATCH is issued when Tropical Storm conditions, including winds of 39-73 mph, pose a POSSIBLE threat to a specified coastal area within 48 hours.

A HURRICANE WATCH is issued when sustained winds of 74 mph or higher are POSSIBLE within the specified area of the Watch. Because hurricane preparedness activities become difficult once winds reach tropical storm force, the Watch is issued 48 hours in advance of the onset of tropical storm force winds.

Here's the difference between the warnings.
Here's the difference between the warnings. (Source: WMBF)

A TROPICAL STORM WARNING is issued when Tropical Storm conditions, including winds of 39-73 mph, are EXPECTED in a specified coastal area within 36 hours or less.

A HURRICANE WARNING is issued when sustained winds of 74 mph or higher are EXPECTED somewhere within the specified area of the Warning. Because hurricane preparedness activities become difficult once winds reach tropical storm force, the Warning is issued 36 hours in advance of the onset of tropical storm force winds.

Other common terms you might hear this year include STORM SURGE WATCH and STORM SURGE WARNING.

Storm surge is the rising water forced onshore by the wind from the tropical storm or hurricane.
Storm surge is the rising water forced onshore by the wind from the tropical storm or hurricane. (Source: WMBF)

STORM SURGE is found on the right flank/side of the hurricane/tropical storm where winds run up along the beaches. That brings an abnormal rise in the water level during the storm. Storm Surge is measured as the height of the water above the normal tide. That surge is caused by those winds pushing water onshore for many hours in some instances.

These are now going to be available for the public to receive and work very similar with a hurricane or tropical storm watch/warning.

The new products include a watch and warning for Storm Surge this year.
The new products include a watch and warning for Storm Surge this year. (Source: WMBF)

A STORM SURGE WATCH is issued when the possibility of life-threatening rising water is POSSIBLE within the specified area of the watch. Like the other watch products, this is also issued 48 hours in advance.

A STORM SURGE WARNING is issued when the life-threatening rising water is EXPECTED withing the specified area of the warning. This is also issued like the other warning products, being put out 36 hours in advance.

These are just a few of the terms you will see more often and their meanings. Of course, when it comes to the tropics, we have plenty of terms we use when talking about hurricanes and tropical storms. For a complete list of the definitions, check out this page from the National Weather Service. You can also visit our Hurricane Center for more information before the storm, during the storm and after the storm. It’s a great place for resources for the upcoming season.

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