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During hurricane season, you’ll hear a lot of different terminology, about watches and warnings, landfall and trajectory. One thing that confuses some people is the terminology about the storms themselves. What’s the difference between a hurricane and a tropical storm? Here, we offer this guide, explaining what you need to know about each storm, and how preparing for a hurricane differs from preparing for a tropical storm.

windy tropical stormIn Florida, hurricane season runs from June 1st to November 30th, with most storms occurring between August and October. Tropical storm season lasts a little longer than that, because tropical storms often occur prior to hurricane season. Here’s how storms progress during the season:

  • The first stage of a hurricane is a tropical disturbance. This is a storm with winds less than 23 miles per hour, which don’t circulate much, along with thunderstorms.
  • Next, the storm evolves into a tropical depression. This essentially means the winds of a tropical disturbance have gotten faster than 23 miles per hour. Tropical depressions happen when multiple thunderstorms create circular wind flow in a low-pressure area, and the winds can get up to 39 miles per hour.
  • Tropical storms come after tropical depressions. With winds between 39 and 73 miles per hour, these are serious storms that are starting to form the circular shape associated with hurricanes. During a tropical storm, much of the damage will be due to rainfall and the flooding it causes. Wind damage from tropical storms can also be severe. Tropical storms, like hurricanes, are given names.
  • Once tropical storm winds reach 74 miles per hour, it’s upgraded to a hurricane. Hurricanes are extremely serious storms that rotate in a large circular pattern. They’re ranked from category 1 to category 5, depending on their wind speed and intensity. It’s important to note that, while this ranking system helps determine when people should evacuate, it should never be assumed that a category 1 hurricane isn’t dangerous. In fact, tropical storms can be dangerous, too, causing quite a bit of damage and risk.

So, if tropical storms and hurricanes are both dangerous, is the only difference the speed of their winds? Not exactly. Hurricanes have other distinguishing characteristics that set them apart from tropical storms. For example, they develop “eyes,” which are directly in the center of hurricanes. The eye of a hurricane can be anywhere from 20 to 40 miles across, and is a calm, clear area. The hurricane eye wall, by contrast, by contrast, holds the most dangerous winds and most substantial rainfall. This area, surrounding the eye, can be about 30 miles wide, and will pass over an area directly following the eye. If your area is experiencing a hurricane, and things suddenly grow calm, that’s when you should brace yourself for the impact of the eye wall. Hurricanes also have rain bands, clouds that create a spiral around the eye wall. IF you’re looking at the radar, the pinwheel appearance you see is caused by the rain bands. These make up the larges part of the hurricane, spanning up to 300 miles, rotating counter clockwise.

It’s good to know the difference between a hurricane and a tropical storm, but it’s more important to be prepared for whatever kind of storm comes your way. When heavy rains and vicious winds are battering your property, you won’t care as much about the name of the storm as you will about whether your home and family are safe. If you live in Florida, it’s crucial to prepare your home well in advance of hurricane season, so that it won’t sustain major damage during a storm. It’s also wise to have emergency supplies on hand in advance, sign up for alerts from your community weather services, have an emergency plan that your family understands, and be prepared to evacuate when the authorities say it’s time to leave the area.

When you need to protect your home or business from Florida’s storms, trust Storm Smart, the recognized leader in hurricane protection. First established in 1994, we’ve been serving the East Coast of Florida since 2016, providing the very best in storm protection, along with unmatched customer service. We’re the largest manufacturer and installer of code-approved hurricane protection products, and we offer a full line of technologically advanced systems, backed by the care and service of highly-trained technicians. To find the right products to keep your property and family safe during hurricane season and all year long, contact our experienced team by calling 561-220-7222, or schedule a consultation and free estimate through our website.