Get to know basic weather terminology that may not be so basic for some

By Eric Braate - Weather Executive Producer
2017 NASA/NOAA GOES Project

NOAA's GOES-East satellite capture of Hurricane Harvey shows the storm making landfall shortly after 10 p.m. on August 25, 2017, on the mid-Texas coast. Harvey's maximum sustained winds had increased to 130 miles per hour.

HOUSTON - With the first named storm of the 2019 Atlantic hurricane season in the Gulf of Mexico, now is a good time to remind people of some of the basic weather terms associated with tropical weather.

As meteorologists, we use these terms often, and sometimes they can be somewhat confusing, so here is a quick tutorial:

Tropical cyclone

Any well-organized tropical system of thunderstorms with a defined low-pressure center and a low-level circulation around that low.

Tropical depression

A tropical cyclone with maximum sustained surface winds up to 38 mph.

Tropical storm

A tropical cyclone with sustained surface winds from 39 to 73 mph.


A tropical cyclone in the Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean Sea, Gulf of Mexico or Eastern Pacific Ocean with maximum sustained surface winds of 74 mph or higher. In the Northwest Pacific Ocean they are called typhoons. In the South Pacific and Indian Oceans they are called cyclones.

Outer bands

Lines or bands of thunderstorms that rotate around the center of circulation of a tropical cyclone. They are typically located well away from the eye or eyewall of the hurricane but can produce very heavy rain and strong wind.

Eye of a hurricane

The very center of circulation of a strong tropical cyclone, typically forming when a storm reaches hurricane strength or greater. The eye of a hurricane is characterized by calm weather and somewhat clear skies.


A band of heavy rain and the strongest wind associated with a tropical cyclone. It is located around the immediate perimeter of the eye of the storm.

More terms

You can get more definitions of tropical terms associated with hurricanes and the damage they cause in KPRC 2’s Hurricane and Flood Survival Guide.

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