A Primer for Hurricanes, Tornadoes and Storm Surges

Here is a basic primer on hurricanes, tornadoes and storm surges, along with hurricane tips, information on the different categories of hurricanes, and a glossary of terms.


A hurricane is a severe tropical storm, that forms in the southern Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean Sea, Gulf of Mexico, or in the eastern Pacific Ocean. Hurricanes need warm tropical oceans, moisture, and light winds above them. If the right conditions last long enough, a hurricane can produce violent winds, incredible waves, torrential rains and floods.

Hurricanes rotate in a counterclockwise direction around an “eye.” Hurricanes have winds at least 74 miles per hour. There are on average six Atlantic hurricanes each year; over a 3-year period, approximately five hurricanes strike the United States coastline from Texas to Maine.

When hurricanes move onto land, the heavy rain, strong winds and heavy waves can damage buildings, trees and cars. The heavy waves are called a storm surge. Storm surge is very dangerous and a major reason why you MUST stay away from the ocean during a hurricane warning or hurricane.


When you think about hurricanes you can not ignore tornadoes. Most (70%) landfalling hurricanes spawn at least one tornado. More than 20 tornadoes were reported during Hurricane David (1979). Most (90%) of the tornadoes that do form, occur on the right front side of the hurricane in the direction of its forward motion. Hurricanes may spawn tornadoes up to three days after landfall, although most of the tornadoes occur on the day of landfall, or on the next day.

Being tornado smart means having a safe place go and having the time to get there. Determine the safest place in your home – an interior room, a hallway, but never in a mobile home. With a NOAA weather radio, you will receive enough warning of any tornado threat.

Storm Surge

Storm surge is a massive dome of water often 50 miles wide, that sweeps across the coast near the area where the eye of the hurricane makes landfall. The storm surge acts like a bulldozer sweeping away everything in its path. The stronger the hurricane the higher the storm surge will be. For those who live along the coast, storm surge is one of the most dangerous hazards in a hurricane.

Compiled by FarmersAlmanacTV.com staff, based on a report from NOAA.

Hurricane Tips


  • Develop or review a family hurricane safety plan.
  • Learn safe routes inland.
  • Find out where official shelters are located.
  • Ensure that you have enough nonperishable food and water on hand.


  • Prepare to cover all windows and doors, preferably with plywood.
  • Prepare disaster supply kit (see below).
  • Move lightweight objects inside.
  • Fuel and service family vehicles.
  • Have extra cash on hand.


  • Complete preparation activities.
  • Follow instructions issued by local officials.
  • If told to evacuate, do so immediately.
  • Leave mobile homes.
  • Notify family living outside the warned area of your plans.
  • Fill the bathtub and large containers with water for sanitary purposes.
  • Turn off propane tanks.
  • Unplug small appliances.


  • Stay inside.
  • Stay away from windows and doors (even if boarded).
  • Move to small interior room on the first floor.


  • Wait until an area is declared safe before returning.
  • Do not drive into flooded roadways.
  • Do not allow children to play in flooded areas.
  • Use flashlights (not candles) for emergency lighting.
  • Beware of downed power lines that may be electrically charged.
  • Use the telephone only for emergency calls.


  • A3-day supply of water (1 gallon per person per day).
  • Food that won’t spoil (canned and dried goods).
  • Prescription medicines.
  • Toiletries.
  • First aid kit.
  • Battery-powered radio.
  • Flashlight, extra batteries.
  • Extra set of clothing and shoes for each person.
  • One blanket or sleeping bag per person.
  • Hand (manual) can opener.
  • Special items for infants, elderly, or disabled family members.

In addition, have the following readily available and sealed in a moisture-proof package:

  • Identification.
  • Valuable papers (insurance).
  • Extra money or a credit card.

Source: National Weather Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale

(Learn More About This Scale At The National Weather Service)

CategorySustained Winds(MPH)DamageStorm
One74-95Minimal: Unanchored mobile homes, vegetation and signs.4-5 feet
Moderate: All mobile homes, roofs, small crafts, flooding.6-8 feet
Three111-130Extensive: Small buildings, low-lying roads cut off.9-12 feet
Four131-155Extreme: Roofs destroyed, trees down, roads cut off, mobile homes destroyed. Beach homes flooded.13-18 feet
FiveMore than 155Catastrophic: Most buildings destroyed. Vegetation destroyed. Major roads cut off. Homes flooded.Greater than 18 feet

Additional Glossary of Terms

Advisory: A formal advisory message from a Weather Bureau Hurricane Warning Center giving warning information along with details on tropical cyclone location, intensity and movement and precautions that should be taken.

Bulletin: A public release for press, radio, and TV dissemination from a Weather Bureau Hurricane Warning Center, issued at times other than those when advisories are required and containing a greater amount of general newsworthy information. The bulletin will routinely include a resume of all warning in effect.

Gale Warning: A warning of winds within the range 39 to 54 miles per hour (34 to 47 knots).

Whole Gale Warning: A warning of winds in the range 55 to 73 miles per hour (48 to 63 knots).

Hurricane: A large revolving storm originating over tropical ocean waters with winds of 74 miles per hour (64 knots) or more blowing counter clockwise around the center.

Hurricane Center or Eye: The relatively calm area near the center of the storm. In this area winds are light and the sky often is only partly covered by clouds.

Hurricane Force Winds: Winds of 74 miles per hour (64 knots) or higher.

Hurricane “Season”: The portion of the year having a relatively high incidence of hurricanes. In the Atlantic it is usually regarded as extending from June through November In the Pacific the season extends from June through October.

Hurricane Warning: A warning that one or more of the following dangerous effects of a hurricane are expected in a specified coastal area in 24 hours or less: (a) Hurricane force winds (74miles per hour or higher); (b) Dangerously high water or a combination of dangerously high water and exceptionally high waves, even though winds expected may be less than hurricane force.

Hurricane Watch: An announcement for specific areas that a hurricane or an incipient hurricane condition poses a threat to coastal and inland communities. All people in the indicated areas should take stock of their preparedness requirements, keep abreast of the latest advisories and bulletins and be ready for quick action in case a warning is issued.

Squall: A wind that increases suddenly in speed, maintains a peak speed of 18 miles per hour (16 knots) or more over a period of two or more minutes, and decreases in speed; similar fluctuations will occur at succeeding intervals.

Cyclone: The meteorologists’ term for any low pressure area or areas where winds move counterclockwise in the Northern Hemisphere.

Tropical Cyclone: A non-frontal cyclone which originative over tropical or sub-tropical maritime areas.

Tropical Disturbance: The weakest recognizable stage of a tropical cyclone, in which rotary circulation is slight or absent at the surface but possibly better developed aloft.

Tropical Disturbance: The weak stage of a tropical cyclone with a definite closed surface circulation, one or more closed surface isobars, and highest wind speed less than 34 knots (39 mph).

Tropical Storm: A tropical cyclone with wind speeds of 39 through 73 mph (34-63 knots).

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