Tropical storms vs. hurricanes: These are the important differences you should know about

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HOUSTON – Tropical Storm Nicholas is moving in to southeast Texas, which has many KPRC 2 viewers asking what’s the difference between a tropical storm and a hurricane. The KPRC 2 News desk has received this question more than any other on Monday, so we thought we’d break it down for you with information from our KPRC 2 meteorologists in our Hurricane and Flood Survival Guide.

A tropical storm is defined as a tropical cyclone with sustained surface winds from 39 mph to 73 mph.

A hurricane has a higher wind speed and is defined as a tropical cyclone in the Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean Sea, Gulf of Mexico or Eastern Pacific Ocean with maximum sustained surface wind of 74 mph or higher.

They are given a category based on wind speed:

Category 1 Hurricane - Winds 74-95 mph

No real damage to building structures. Damage primarily to unanchored mobile homes, shrubbery and trees. Some damage to poorly constructed signs.

Category 2 Hurricane - Winds 96-110 mph

Some roofing material, door and window damage of buildings. Considerable damage to shrubbery and trees with some trees blown down. Considerable damage to mobile homes, poorly constructed signs and piers.

Category 3 Hurricane - Winds 111-129 mph

Some structural damage to small residences and utility buildings with a minor amount of curtain wall failures. Damage to shrubbery and trees, with foliage blown off trees and large trees blown down. Mobile homes and poorly constructed signs are destroyed. Low-lying escape routes are cut off by rising water 3-5 hours before arrival of the center of the hurricane. Flooding near the coast destroys smaller structures with larger structures damaged by battering from floating debris.

Category 4 Hurricane - Winds 130 mph - 156 mph

More extensive curtain wall failures with some complete roof structure failures on small residences. Shrubs, trees, and all signs are blown down. Complete destruction of mobile homes. Extensive damage to doors and windows.

Category 5 Hurricane - Winds greater than 156 mph

Complete roof failure on many residences and industrial buildings. Some complete building failures with small utility buildings blown over or away. All shrubs, trees, and signs blown down. Complete destruction of mobile homes. Severe and extensive window and door damage.


About the Author:

Amanda Cochran is an Edward R. Murrow award-winning journalist. She specializes in Texas features, social media news and local crime.