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Hurricane Terminology & Hurricane Preparedness

Visit the National Hurricane Center for update to date information on hurricanes in the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico

As Houston is only a few miles from the Gulf Coast it does fall into a hurricane "territory." Although the Houston area has not suffered a hurricane for several years, it is important to understand the terminology and know how to prepare for a storm. While Galveston Bay may be 45 miles south, the Greater Houston Area has numerous lakes, bayous, creeks and generally low areas that flood easily. This section is not intended to frighten you, but to inform you. To the locals, it's just routine weather.


A storm with winds of at least 74 mph. A hurricane is a severe cyclonic storm, with winds moving in a circle as wide as 500 miles in diameter. In the Pacific Ocean, hurricanes are called typhoons.

Hurricane Season

The period from June 1 through November 30. This is the period when hurricanes and tropical storms are most likely to develop, but they may also occur at other times. In the Gulf of Mexico, the most dangerous period is from mid-August to mid-September.

Eye of the Hurricane

The area of calm in the center of a hurricane. Winds revolve around the eye of the hurricane. After the eye has passed, the winds rise very rapidly to hurricane force, and come from the opposite direction.

Tropical Storm

Similar to a hurricane but with lesser winds. A tropical storm has winds ranging from 39 to 73 mph.

Tropical Depression

The weaker stage of a tropical cyclone with a definite closed surface circulation, resembling a tropical storm, but with winds less than 39 mph.

Hurricane Watch

A notice issued by the National Weather Service that a hurricane is advancing and threatening a coastal area. A watch means that conditions are favorable for a hurricane to strike but does not mean that the hurricane will, in fact, hit a particular area. When a watch is issued, people in the affected area should keep informed of additional advisories and be prepared to act quickly if a hurricane warning is issued.

Hurricane Warning

A hurricane warning is a notice to act. It means that a hurricane is expected to reach a coastal area within the next 24 hours. This is the time to take necessary precautions and/or to leave the area.

Hurricane warnings identify coastal areas where winds of at least 74 mph are expected to occur. A warning may also describe coastal areas where dangerously high water or exceptionally high waves are forecast, even though winds may be less than hurricane force. Hurricane warnings are seldom issued more than 24 hours in advance. If the hurricane's path is unusual or erratic, the warnings may be issued only a few hours before the beginning of hurricane conditions. Precautionary actions should begin as soon as a hurricane warning is announced.

Storm Surge

An abnormally high surge of water created by tides and winds. It is the storm surge that kills most hurricane victims. A storm surge can be 20 feet or more above normal high tides.


A wind that increases suddenly in speed and maintains a peak speed of 18 mph or more over a period of two or more minutes, and then decreases in speed; similar fluctuations will occur at succeeding intervals.

Gale Warning

A warning that winds within the range of 32 to 63 mph are expected.

Small Craft Advisory

When a hurricane moves within a few hundred miles of the coast, advisories warn small craft operators to take precautions and not to venture into the open ocean.

Hurricane Preparedness

Advance Planning

  • Make a list of household possessions, with descriptions and photographs.
  • Learn about the elevation in your area and its history of tidal flooding from storm surges and local flooding.
  • Get information on the location of the nearest hurricane shelter and the main evacuation routes.
  • Have on hand a transistor radio and flashlight with extra batteries.

When a Hurricane Watch is Issued

  • Check radios and flashlights to make sure they are working and that you have spare batteries.
  • Obtain a weather radio, which broadcasts information continuously from the Houston and Galveston weather bureaus. These battery-operated radios are available in consumer electronics stores.
  • Get waterproof matches, lanterns, flashlights and fuel. Fill your car with gasoline (you will be unable to do this if electrical power is interrupted). Candles are not recommended; battery operated lanterns are preferable. Have sufficient batteries to last two weeks.
  • Store enough drinking water for several days in clean bathtubs, jugs, bottles, and cooking utensils; the local water supply may be contaminated by flooding or damaged by hurricane floods.
  • Have boards and masking tape available to protect windows. Get extra mops and cloths to stop water from seeping indoors.
  • Make sure you have enough prescription medicine and any special dietary or baby foods.
  • Set freezers and refrigerators as cold as possible. If power fails, open refrigerators only when absolutely necessary. Have ice chests ready to keep perishables fresh.
  • Prepare a first aid kit for cuts, scrapes and minor burns.
  • Buy foods that are non-perishable or don't spoil easily (crackers, canned foods, breads, bottled water, etc.)

When a Hurricane Warning is Issued

  • Secure outdoor objects that might be blown away or uprooted. Garbage cans, garden tools, toys, signs, porch furniture, and a number of other harmless items become missiles of destruction in hurricane winds. Anchor them or store them inside before the storm strikes. Brace garage doors and lower antennas.
  • Fill boats on trailers with water to increase stability. Lash boats to trailers and anchor trailers with tie-downs.
  • Place valuable documents in water-proof containers and store in a high, safe place.

If You Go to a Shelter

Leave early, in daylight if possible. Make sure a safe refuge is available. Don't travel farther than you must. Take survival supplies, special foods, medicines, first-aid kit and water. Also take important papers. The American Red Cross asks that you bring bedding and special items needed for babies.

If You Stay at Home

Stay inside, even in the hurricane's eye. Make temporary repairs if possible without risk. Stay away from windows and glass doors and stay on the downwind side.

Beware of the Eye of the Hurricane

If the calm storm center passes directly overhead, there will be a lull in the wind, lasting from a few minutes to half an hour or more. Stay in a safe place unless emergency repairs are absolutely necessary. Remember, at the other side of the eye, the winds rise very rapidly to hurricane force and come from the opposite direction.

When the Storm Has Passed

  • Beware of outdoor hazards. Avoid downed power lines and water. High water often drives poisonous snakes from their homes, so look out for them.
  • Beware of weakened bridges and washed-out roads. Make sure the food you eat isn't spoiled.
  • Don't drink or prepare food with tap water until you are sure it isn't contaminated. Watch out for weakened tree limbs. Don't use the telephone unless necessary, because the system is usually jammed with calls during and after hurricanes.
  • Remember to stay out of disaster areas unless you are qualified to help; report broken sewer or water mains, as well as dangling wires, to the water department; use water sparingly, to prevent lowered water pressure in the area (Note that water may be needed to prevent the spread of fires).


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