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Hurricane Season 101: Answering Key Questions Before a Major Storm Hits Florida

by BROOKE GOLD HASSON | May 13, 2016

HurricaneSeason101It’s that time of year again! While no major hurricane has made landfall in Florida in more than a decade, it’s still important to understand these powerful storms.

To help you brush up on your hurricane knowledge, we’re answering 10 common hurricane season questions.

How much do you really know about hurricanes?

When is the Atlantic hurricane season?

The Atlantic hurricane season runs from June 1 to November 30, with peak activity typically occurring between mid-August and late October.

What’s the difference between a tropical depression, a tropical storm, and a hurricane?

When the maximum sustained wind speed of a tropical cyclone is 38 mph or less, it is considered a tropical depression. When maximum sustained winds are 39-73 mph, it is considered a tropical storm. When maximum sustained winds exceed 74 mph, it is considered a hurricane.

What’s the difference between a watch and a warning?

A hurricane or tropical storm watch means that conditions are favorable for one of those storms to hit and may begin affecting the area within the next 48 hours. A hurricane or tropical storm warning means that conditions are expected in the area within the next 36 hours.

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How do hurricanes form?

Tropical cyclones form over warm ocean waters. As moisture rises and forms rotating clouds, the storm gains strength until it becomes a hurricane.

How are hurricanes named?

The World Meteorological Organization has six rotating lists of names for major storms. A tropical storm that reaches 39 mph is given a name, and it retains that name once it becomes a hurricane. The first name of the season starts with "A" followed by "B, C, D" and so on (excluding the letters Q, U, X, Y, and Z), alternating between male and female names. The names of truly memorable or devastating hurricanes are removed from the list forever – so there will never again be an Andrew or Katrina, for example.

How are hurricanes ranked?

Atlantic hurricanes are ranked using the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale, which estimates potential property damage according to the hurricane's sustained wind speed.

A tropical cyclone is considered a hurricane once it sustains winds greater than 74 mph:

  • A Category 1 hurricane has sustained winds of 74-95 mph
  • A Category 2 hurricane has sustained winds of 96-110 mph
  • A Category 3 hurricane has sustained winds of 111-129 mph
  • A Category 4 hurricane has sustained winds of 130-156 mph
  • A Category 5 hurricane has sustained winds greater than 156 mph

How big are hurricanes?

The size of a hurricane is determined by the diameter of how far across its hurricane- and gale-force winds stretch. The average diameter of a hurricane is 100 miles, while the average diameter of a tropical storm is 300 to 400 miles.

How long do hurricanes last?

Hurricanes can last anywhere from a few hours to several weeks. The longest-lasting Atlantic hurricane ever recorded was the San Ciriaco Hurricane of 1899, which lasted for 28 days.

What’s the difference between a typhoon and a hurricane?

Nothing… except for where they occur. Atlantic, Caribbean, and central and northeast Pacific storms are called "hurricanes," while northwest and southern Pacific storms are called "typhoons."

How do El Niño and La Niña affect hurricane season?

El Niño suppresses hurricane activity in the Atlantic due to stronger vertical wind shear and trade winds, and more atmospheric stability. Conversely, La Niña increases hurricane activity in the Atlantic due to weaker vertical wind shear and trade winds, and less atmospheric activity.