The Atlantic Hurricane Season is usually active. If you listen to weather reports during active season you will hear them tracking different storms. For example, during the 2022 season there were 14 named storms in the Atlantic. Eight of those storms were hurricanes and six were tropical storms. But if you are not a hurricane expert it’s difficult to know why one is called a tropical storm but another is called a hurricane.
All tropical cyclones, no matter what name or category they have have can cause a lot of damage. So you should pay attention to both. But there is a reason why different storms have different names. And sometimes it is difficult to know one from another.
So what is the difference between a tropical storm and a hurricane? Well, that is exactly what we will answer in this article. Read below to learn the answer.
Want to learn more about hurricane season we suggest reading our guide on When Is Hurricane Season in Florida?
Definitions: Tropical Storm vs Hurricane
Below we define these types of storms and give details on each. This will make it easier to compare a tropical storm vs hurricane.
- Tropical cyclone is a class of storms that originates over warm, tropical/subtropical water bodies. They consist of a low pressure center, intense winds, thunderstorms, etc. Tropical cyclones rotate rapidly in a counter clockwise direction in the Northern Hemisphere.
- Tropical storm – a tropical cyclone is a tropical cyclone that has sustained winds of 39 – 73 MPH
- Hurricane – a tropical cyclone that has sustained wind speeds of 74 MPH and up
Tropical storm vs hurricane: are they the same?
You may be wondering if the two things are the same. And that is a good place to start.
Tropical storms and hurricanes are both tropical storm systems. However, they are not the same thing.
Hurricanes and tropical storms are different in one key way. That key difference is the maximum sustained wind speed that each reaches.
How are the two storms different?
The main difference between a tropical storm and a hurricane is each storm’s sustained wind speed.
In short, Tropical storms have lower sustained wind speeds vs hurricanes. Said in another way, hurricanes have higher wind speed than tropical storms. the storm needs to reach certain wind speeds.
The Saffir-Simpson wind scale is used to classify different types of tropical storm systems. In order to be classified as a category 1 hurricane a tropical storm needs to reach sustained wind speeds of 74 MPH or more.
How much worse is a category 1 hurricane vs a tropical storm?
Hurricanes have a higher potential for causing wind related damage. This is because they have stronger winds than tropical storms. And stronger winds can cause more damage to structures. So hurricanes have the potential to cause more wind damage than tropical storms.
However, it is more helpful to compare the actual wind speeds of specific storms vs comparing storm classifications as a whole.
For example, the difference between a 73 MPH tropical storm and a 74 MPH category 1 storm is just 1 MPH. In this case there would be a minimal difference in wind speed between the two.
However, category 1 hurricanes have the potential to reach sustained winds of 95 MPH. So a 95 MPH hurricane vs a 73 MPH tropical storm is a different story. This of course is significantly higher winds vs the tropical storm.
So while hurricanes have the potential to cause more wind related damage it does depend on the wind speed of specific storms.
Wind speed isn’t the only factor
You should also be aware that the Saffir-Simpson wind scale doesn’t take rain, storm surge or other factors of the storm into account.
So it is true that the wind speeds of a hurricane are stronger and have the potential to cause more wind damage. But a category 1 hurricane may not necessarily be more destructive than a tropical storm.
Things like flooding, tornadoes and other factors could greatly affect the severity of damage a tropical cyclone causes.
Yes. One storm can be classified as both a tropical storm and a hurricane. A tropical storm can strengthen into a hurricane. And on the flip side, a hurricane can weaken into a tropical storm. So yes, a storm can change classifications. It just depends on its maximum sustained wind speeds at any given point.
Recent tropical storms to hit Florida were Tropical Storm Elsa and Tropical Storm Fred in 2021 and Tropical Storm Alex in 2022.
Hurricane Ian and Hurricane Nicole both made landfall in Florida in 2022. Hurricane Ian was a category 4 (nearly a category 5) hurricane in September 2022 that caused mass destruction in Southwest Florida and later in other parts of Florida.
Get Protection for any SWFL Tropical Cyclones
Do you live in an area affected by tropical cyclones? If so you should be ready to act during storm season. This is true regardless of if it is s a tropical storm or a hurricane. Both categories have the potential to cause damage to your home and cause injury or harm. We recommend putting up your storm shutters for any tropical cyclone, including tropical storms.
Eurex Shutters can help you with any and all questions about storm protection for your Southwest Florida home. We have been manufacturing, installing and repairing hurricane shutters and impact glass in SWFL for 35+ years.
- Tropical Cyclone Climatology – National Hurricane Center
- What is a Tropical Cyclone? – Bureau of Meteorology
- Tropical Cyclone – Wikipedia
- Saffir-Simpson Wind Scale – National Hurricane Center