Summer in South Florida typically means barbecues, trips to the beach, boating, vacations and other fun activities. Unfortunately, it also means the possibility of a hurricane threatening our region.
Hurricane season runs from June 1 through November 30 and every South Floridian should be ready. A hurricane can form and strike at any time, cause significant property damage, and disrupt services such as water, telephone and electricity. That is why you should develop a hurricane preparedness plan now, prepare your home and/or business, and know how to stay informed before, during and after a storm.
What is a Hurricane?
A hurricane is a tropical cyclone that forms in the tropics. Hurricanes that affect South Florida usually form in the eastern Atlantic Ocean just south of the Tropic of Cancer or in the Caribbean Sea, especially in the late summer and early fall. The peak of the Atlantic hurricane season is Sept. 10.
The signature features of a hurricane include a counter-clockwise circulation of the storm's clouds, strong winds, heavy rain, tornadoes, and dangerous storm surge (elevated tidal conditions) that result in coastal flooding.
Since 1953, Atlantic tropical storms have been named from lists originated by the National Hurricane Center (NHC) in Miami and now maintained and updated through a strict procedure by an international committee of the World Meteorological Organization. There are six lists of hurricane names that are rotated each year. The World Meteorological Organization committee can retire a hurricane name if a storm causes significant loss of life and/or property (e.g. Andrew, Katrina, Michael). In such cases, the retired name is replaced with a new one.
2023 Hurricane Names
Tropical Cyclone Classification and Hurricane Strength Categories
Tropical cyclones are classified as follows:
Tropical Depression: An organized system of clouds and thunderstorms with a defined surface circulation and maximum sustained winds of less than 38 mph.
Tropical Storm: An organized system of strong thunderstorms with a defined surface circulation and maximum sustained winds of 39 to 73 mph. It is at this point that the National Hurricane Center in Miami gives a tropical cyclone its name.
Hurricane: An intense tropical weather system of strong thunderstorms with a well-defined surface circulation and maximum sustained winds of at least 74 mph.
The NHC uses the Saffir-Simpson Scale to categorize hurricanes based on the maximum sustained strength of a storm's winds. The higher the category, the more destructive the storm is. A Category 3 or higher storm is considered a major hurricane.
Well-constructed frame homes could have damage to roof, shingles, vinyl siding and gutters. Large branches of trees will snap and shallowly rooted trees may be toppled. Extensive damage to power lines and poles likely will result in power outages that could last a few to several days. Example: Katrina, 2005 (Fla.)
Well-constructed frame homes could sustain major roof and siding damage. Many shallowly rooted trees will be snapped or uprooted and block numerous roads. Near-total power loss is expected with outages that could last from several days to weeks.
Example: Wilma, 2005
Well-built framed homes may incur major damage or removal of roof decking and gable ends. Many trees will be snapped or uprooted, blocking numerous roads. Electricity and water will be unavailable for several days to weeks after the storm passes.
Example: Katrina, 2005 (La.)
Well-built framed homes can sustain severe damage with loss of most of the roof structure and/or some exterior walls. Most trees will be snapped or uprooted and power poles downed. Fallen trees and power poles will isolate residential areas. Power outages will last weeks to possibly months. Most of the area will be uninhabitable for weeks or months.
Example: Charley, 2004
157 mph or higher
A high percentage of framed homes will be destroyed, with total roof failure and wall collapse. Fallen trees and power poles will isolate residential areas. Power outages will last for weeks to possibly months. Most of the area will be uninhabitable for weeks or months.
Example: Andrew, 1992
Watches and Warnings
When a tropical storm or hurricane approaches a coastal area, the NHC will issue watches and warnings for areas forecasters feel will be affected by specific types of weather conditions. For example, while one area that is directly in a hurricane's path may be placed under a hurricane warning, another area hundreds of miles away may be placed under a tropical storm watch if forecasters believe that tropical storm conditions are possible there.
Watches and warnings are defined as follows:
Tropical Storm Watch: An announcement that tropical storm conditions (sustained winds of 39 to 73 mph) are possible within the specified coastal area within 48 hours.
Tropical Storm Warning: An announcement that tropical storm conditions (sustained winds of 39 to 73 mph) are expected somewhere within the specified coastal area within 36 hours.
Hurricane Watch: An announcement that hurricane conditions (sustained winds of 74 mph or higher) are possible within the specified coastal area. Because hurricane preparedness activities become difficult once winds reach tropical storm force, the hurricane watch is issued 48 hours in advance of the anticipated onset of tropical-storm-force winds.
Hurricane Warning: An announcement that hurricane conditions (sustained winds of 74 mph or higher) are expected somewhere within the specified coastal area. Because hurricane preparedness activities become difficult once winds reach tropical storm force, the hurricane warning is issued 36 hours in advance of the anticipated onset of tropical-storm-force winds.
Tornado Watch: Issued to alert the public that conditions are favorable for the development of tornadoes in and close to the watch area. These watches are issued with information concerning the watch area and the length of time they are in effect.
Tornado Warning: Issued by local NWS offices to warn the public that a tornado has been sighted by storm spotters, law enforcement or has been indicated by radar. These warnings are issued with information concerning where the tornado is presently located and which communities are in the anticipated path of the tornado.
Flash Flood Watch: A flash flood watch means a flash flood is possible in the area; stay alert.
Flash Flood Warning: A flash flood warning means a flash flood is imminent and everyone in the area should take immediate action.