What do hurricane terms mean?

Published 12:00 am Monday, September 12, 2005

Since the devastation brought on the Gulf Coast by Hurricane Katrina, and with Tropical Storm Ophelia churning off the East Coast, more and residents up and down the Atlantic and Gulf coasts are becoming increasing aware and interested in all updates and advisories regarding the weather.

There is a lot of good information, which is easily accessible!

The fact that more needs to be done by the public to educate itself was brought home to me last Wednesday as I was flying back from a business trip on one of those rare direct flights to Norfolk. Seated next to me were two very well-dressed individuals, who were engaged in a very heated discussion about the weather, specifically hurricanes.

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Normally, on a typical two-hour flight, I always have a ton of professional magazines or newsletters to read, or there is always a text or article to read or review for the PhD program that I am enrolled in so usually I am in my own little world. This flight was different.

About 20 minutes after the plane took off the person sitting in the middle seat, (I had the aisle), turned to me and asked,

&uot;Do you know the difference between an ‘advisory’ and a ‘bulletin’ regarding hurricanes? My partner and I are confused.&uot;

We had just flown out of Jacksonville, Fla., where a hurricane advisory had been issued by the National Hurricane Center and this seemed to be the topic de jour in both the terminal and the aircraft itself.

As pure luck, or chance would have it I could actually help my fellow passenger, thanks to the U.S. Coast Guard. About four days before my flight down to Jacksonville, after Hurricane Katrina had come ashore, I was talking with Coast Guard Atlantic Area Public Affairs Officer Lt. Buddy Dye, who is also a Suffolk resident. Buddy told me about the Coast Guard &uot;Storm Center&uot; Web site at: http://www.usc-g.mil/news/stormcenter/.

I was gathering some official pictures for an article I was working on for the Naval Institute and storm center had some great official photos of Coast Guard members engaged in the Hurricane Katrina response.

One other area within this web site caught my eye. This was entitled &uot;National Hurricane Center (NHC) advisory terms.&uot; I actually printed out this section and had it in my briefcase, because I wanted to sit down, once I got home from Jacksonville and review it with my family. So instead, I gave my fellow passenger the two pages, which allowed my and his companion to discuss the terms and their meaning for the next 30 minutes.

Here is a sampling of the terms from the USCG Storm Center web site:


Weather advisory messages are issued for tropical storms and hurricanes.

An advisory states the location, intensity, direction of travel, and speed of a tropical storm or hurricane.


A weather bulletin is a public release made during periods between advisories, announcing the latest details on the storm or hurricane.

Small Craft Advisory: To alert mariners to sustained (more than two hours) weather or sea conditions, either present or forecast, that might be hazardous to small boats. The threshold conditions for the Small Craft Advisory are usually 18 knots of wind (less than 18 knots in some dangerous waters) or hazardous wave conditions.

Gale Warning:

a warning of winds within the range of 39 – 54 mph (34 – 47 knots).

Gale warnings may precede or accompany a hurricane watch.

Storm Warning:

A warning of winds within the range of 55 – 73 mph (48 – 63 knots).

Hurricane Watch:

An advance statement, not a warning, indicating that a hurricane is approaching and attention should be given to subsequent advisories.

It implies the possibility of dangerous conditions within 24 to 48 hours.

Precautionary action should be taken in case hurricane warnings are forthcoming.

Hurricane Warning:

A warning that indicates that hurricane winds of 74 mph (64 knots) and higher, or a combination of dangerously high water and rough seas, are expected to impact a specified coastal area.

When a hurricane warning is announced, hurricane conditions are considered imminent and may begin immediately, or at least within the next 12 to 24 hours.

When a warning is announced, it is of utmost importance that precautionary measures are taken for protection of life and property.


A violent storm originating over tropical waters, with winds near its center reaching 74 mph and higher.

In size, the storm may range from 50 to 1,000 miles in diameter.

If you get a chance please visit the Coast Guard Storm Center site which is chocked full of information on surviving a hurricane. It also has a large photo gallery of the Coast Guard’s response to Katrina.

Until next week… Boat Safe, Boat Smart and if you can help the victims of Katrina through reputable organizations like the American Red Cross or Salvation Army, PLEASE DO.

Even a few dollars will mean a great deal to our fellow citizens that have lost a lot. Our national response will re-enforce to the rest of the world the resolve our nation has to stick together…in the end…that is the American Way!

Joe DiRenzo is a retired Coast Officer and former cutter Commanding Officer.