Glossary of Hurricane Terms
Advisories are formal messages issued each six hours concerning
tropical storms and hurricanes. They give warning information on
where the storm is located, how intense it is, where it is moving,
and what precautions should be taken.
A measure of the reflectivity of a surface.
A dome of air with high atmospheric pressure. Same as a ‘high’.
Rotation that is counter-clockwise in the Southern Hemisphere and
clockwise in the Northern Hemisphere. Opposite of cyclonic.
The furthest point of the moon’s orbit to the earth. Opposite of
An atmosphere in which differences in temperatures are
significant enought that air density depends on both pressure and
temperature. For most purposes, tropical cyclones are not considered
Standards and guidelines for construction of buildings to ensure
a minimum level of safety for the occupants.
Cape Verde-type Hurricanes:
Cape Verde-type hurricanes are those Atlantic basin tropical
cyclones that develop into tropical storms fairly close ( less then
1000 kilometres) to the Cape Verde Islands, off the west coast of
Africa, and then become hurricanes before reaching the Caribbean.
Typically, this occurs in August and September.
Category 5: Sustained winds of more than 155 mph with storm
surges greater than 18 feet. e.g. Hurricane Andrew, a category 5
hurricane that struck Florida and Louisiana in 1992, caused more than
$26 billion in damages.
Category 4: Sustained winds from 131 to 155 mph with storm surges
of 13 to 18 feet. e.g. Hurricane Charley, a category 4 storm, left a
trail of destruction estimated at $15 billion when it tore through
Florida in 2004 — one of four major hurricanes that hit the state that
Category 3: Sustained winds from 111 to 130 mph with storm surges
of 9 to 12 feet. Two Category 3 storms blasted Florida in 2004:
Hurricane Ivan, which also struck Alabama, caused more than $14 billion
in damages; the cost of Hurricane Jeanne was estimated at nearly $7
Category 2: Sustained winds from 96 to 110 mph with storm surges
of 6 to 8 feet. The fourth big storm to strike Florida in 2004, Frances,
a category 2 hurricane, caused nearly $9 billion in damages.
Category 1: Sustained winds from 74 to 95 mph with storm surges
of 4 to 5 feet. The costliest category 1 storm to hit the mainland
United States was Agnes, which struck Florida and the Northeastern
United States in 1972, causing $1.5 billion in damage.
Coastal Flood Warning:
A warning that significant wind-forced flooding is to be expected
along low-lying coastal areas if weather patterns develop as
Coastal Flood Watch:
An alert that significant wind-forced flooding is to be expected
along low-lying coastal areas if weather patterns develop as
Apparent effect of the earth’s rotation tending to turn the
direction of any object or fluid toward the right in the northern
hemisphere and to the left in the southern hemisphere. The Coriolis
Force gives a tropical cyclone its spin. Without it, tropical
cyclones would not form.
The process where water vapour is transformed into liquid water.
The transfer of heat or moisture in a medium by the movement of a
mass or substance. When used to imply only upward vertical motion,
it is then the opposite of subsidence.
Individual columns of updrafts produced by atmospheric
Heaped or lumpy clouds that form in an unstable atmosphere.
A type of cloud that is exceptionally dense and vertically
developed. These clouds appear as mountains or huge towers. If they
reach the top of the troposphere (as in the picture below) the tops
spread out and look like a blacksmith’s anvil. They are more
commonly known as thunderstorms.
Rotation that is counter-clockwise in the Northern Hemisphere and
clockwise in the Southern Hemisphere. Opposite of anticyclonic.
The temperature at which a vapour begins to condense.
A sudden descent of cool or cold air to the ground, usually with
precipitation, also associated with a thunderstorm or shower. The
opposite of an updraft.
A warming of Pacific Ocean waters near the Equator that typically
occurs every 3 to 7 years. Such an event dictates a shift in
"normal" weather patterns.
Extratropical (ET) Cyclone:
A cyclone which attributes the majority of its energy to
baroclinic processes. An ET cyclone has significant vertical wind
shears, and a distinctive asymmetric temperature and moisture field.
It may develop a cold core in its later stages.
The eye of the hurricane is the innermost portion of the storm.
This zone is surprisingly calm with little or no wind. Within the
eye, the skies are often clear, despite the fact that winds and
clouds continue to rage around the edge of the eye. The eye is not
always in the centre of the storm. Sometimes it turns or moves in
various directions with the storm itself, which continues to move
forward on its own course. Over the ocean the sea can be treacherous
under the eye because high waves are converging.
The ring of thunderstorms that surrounds a storm's eye. The
heaviest rain, strongest winds and worst turbulence are normally in
the eye wall.
The expected severity of flooding (minor, moderate or major) as
well as where and when the flooding will begin.
Hurricanes are cyclones of tropical origin with wind speeds of at
least 118 kilometres per hour. A hurricane is a large, rotating
storm, where the winds move around a relatively calm centre called
the ‘eye’. These storms are known as ‘typhoons’ in the western
Pacific, ‘cyclones’ in the Indian Ocean, and ‘baguios’ in the
Philippines. Each storm usually has a life span of several days.
Hurricane Eye Landfall:
When the eye, or physical center of the hurricane, reaches the
coastline from the hurricane's approach over water.
Line of movement (propagation) of the eye through an area.
The portion of the year having relatively high incidence of
hurricanes. North American hurricane season is normally from June to
November. The most active month in Atlantic Canada is September.
A hurricane warning is issued to coastal areas where winds of 118
kilometres per hour or higher are definitely expected to occur. A
warning also may include coastal areas where dangerously high water
or exceptionally high waves are predicted, even though the winds
expected may be less than hurricane force. When the warning is
issued, all precautions should be taken immediately. The warnings
are seldom issued more than 24 hours in advance. If the hurricane
path is unusual or erratic, the warnings may be issued only a few
hours before the onset of hurricane conditions.
As the hurricane continues to approach the mainland and is
considered a threat to coastal and inland regions, meteorologists
issue a hurricane watch for the regions in the calculated path. This
watch does not mean that a hurricane is definitely going to strike.
It means that everyone in the area covered by the alert should watch
more carefully for the hurricane and be prepared to act quickly if
definite warnings are issued that a hurricane will strike.
Invisible rays of the spectrum, just beyond red, that have a
penetrating heat effect.
A line drawn on a weather map connecting points of equal
High-speed airflow in narrow bands within the upper-air
westerlies and along certain other zones at high levels.
A measurement of wind speed. 1 knot = 1.853 kilometres per hour.
Heat released or absorbed by a substance as it changes its state.
When water vapour condenses into liquid, it releases this heat into
the surrounding atmosphere. The atmosphere around this condensation
La Reunion Island:
Island in the Indian Ocean off the east coast of Africa.
Low Pressure System (low):
Area which has a central pressure lower than its surroundings.
Storm systems are all low pressure systems.
A metric measurement of air pressure. 1 inch of mercury = 33.87
The point in the moon’s orbit which is closest to the Earth.
Opposite of apogee.
The time between two successive peaks of a wave.
The smallest unit of resolution on a computer screen or image.
A tropical storm or hurricane that moves beyond the tropics into
the mid-latitudes and begins losing its tropical characteristics.
The size of the circulation usually expands, the speed of the
maximum wind decreases, and the distribution of winds, rainfall, and
temperatures becomes more asymmetric.
The point when a tropical cyclone begins to take on
characteristics apart from those of a pure tropical cyclone.
Predicted Astronomical Tide:
The height of tides at various locations and times based solely
on astronomical calculations. These are the values printed in tide
tables. These values do not account for atmospheric effects such as
wind or pressure.
The scale used to give public safety officials an assessment of
the potential wind and storm surge damage from a hurricane. Scale
numbers are available to public safety officials when a hurricane is
within 72 hours of landfall. Scale assessments are revised regularly
as new observations are made. Public safety organizations are kept
informed of new estimates of the hurricane's disaster potential.
Scale numbers range from 1 to 5.
Severe Thunderstorm Warning:
Indicates that severe thunderstorms have been sighted or
indicated on radar.
Severe Thunderstorm Watch:
Indicates that conditions are favourable for lightning, damaging
winds greater than 90 kilometres per hour and hail and/or heavy
Small Craft Advisory:
A warning of winds from 20 to 33 knots or for sea conditions
either forecasted or occurring that are considered potentially
hazardous to small boats in coastal waters.
A brief, violent windstorm usually but not necessarily associated
Spiral Rain Bands:
Bands of thunderstorms that wrap around a hurricane.
A non-convective state in the atmosphere, opposite of unstable.
Occurs in a section of the atmosphere when the air temperature
either decreases very slowly with height or even increases with
Uniform, featureless clouds that form in a stable atmosphere.
The high and forceful dome of wind-driven waters sweeping along
the coastline near where the eye makes landfall or passes close to
A low pressure system, developing over waters which are neither
in the tropics nor the mid-latitudes, and which initially contains
few tropical characteristics. With time the subtropical storm can
Subtropical high-pressure belts:
Belts of persistent high atmospheric pressure trending east-west
and centered about latitude 30° N and S.
Deep high pressure systems, caused by the accumulation of air as
a result of the convergence in the upper troposphere.
The configuration of a surface including it relief and the
position of its natural and man-made features.
Surface winds in the low level air flow within the tropical
The generic term for the class of tropical weather systems,
including tropical depressions, tropical storms, and hurricanes.
Low-latitude wind system of persistent air flow from east to west
between the two subtropical high-pressure belts.
A tropical cyclone with maximum sustained surface winds less than
63 kilometres per hour.
A tropical cyclone with maximum sustained surface winds 63
kilometres per hour to 117 kilometres per hour.
Tropical Storm Watch:
An announcement that a tropical storm or tropical storm
conditions pose a threat to coastal areas generally within 36 hours.
A watch should normally not be issued if the system is forecast to
attain hurricane strength.
Tropical Storm Warning:
Same as a Hurricane Warning, except winds of 63 to 11 7
kilometres per hour are expected.
A kink or bend in the normally straight flow of surface air in
the tropics which forms a low pressure trough, or pressure boundary,
with showers and thunderstorms. Can develop into a tropical cyclone.
Lowermost layer of the atmosphere in which air temperature falls
steadily with increasing altitude. All weather occurs in the
An elongated area of low barometric pressure.
A hurricane in the north Pacific west of the International Date
A turbulent, convective state in the atmosphere resulting from a
rapid decrease in air temperature with height above the ground.
A small scale current of air with vertical motion. If there is
enough moisture, then it may condense, forming a cumulus cloud and
possibly thunderstorms. The opposite of a downdraft.
Vertical Wind Shear:
The magnitude of wind change with height. Vertical wind shear can
weaken or destroy the cyclone by interfering with the organization
of deep convection around the cyclone centre.
A measure of local rotation in a fluid flow; the spin of a fluid.
Surface winds blowing from a generally westerly direction in the
midlatitude zone, but varying greatly in direction and intensity.