Hurricane 101 – FOR ARCHITECTS

October 28, 2017

Reading Time: 5 minutes

for nerds, geeks and dreamers

A soliloquy by Laurence E. Parisi, AIA


I recall in architectural school at NYIT, there was a special section in the computer department for architects. Established to enable architectural students to complete their course requirements, I was told architect’s logic did not jive with the computer logic and they were at a disadvantage.  Now, these same computer geeks have adopted the title “Architect”, isn’t that curious, and this hypocrisy continues as a trendy adjective for everything.   As a transfer student, I was placed in a computer major section with the real nerdy geeks.  I suffered terribly, however I made it through by the skin of my Sir Banister Fletcher.


In today’s meteorological world, amidst all of the specialized technology and computer modeling, we still find ourselves wondering, what the hell is going on with the weather?  Flooded with weather terminology, myths and folk law, I believe it’s prudent for architects to have a sound working knowledge of the essential scientific terms in order to be relevant. Below I’ve listed 12 weather related terms for a basic 101 understanding.  This will encourage a more ambient nature among architects and the scientists. Although in my mind, I still believe we’re better off with the Farmer’s Almanac. There is no real predictability on storms only tracking and a whole lot of “if this and/or if that” all as determined by the will of God.


For starters, you should know that the Hurricane season is from June 1 to November 30.  Sandy landed in New Jersey at Atlantic City on October 29, 2012 with winds of 80 mph.  Architects must have a decent understanding of the terms Cat 1 through Cat 5 as it is important and relative to the Saffir-Simpson Scale. See Below:


Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale:

The Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale is a 1 to 5 categorization based on the hurricane’s intensity at the indicated time. The scale provides examples of the type of damage and impacts in the United States associated with winds of the indicated intensity. The following table shows the scale broken down by winds:


Category Wind Speed (mph) Damage
1 74 – 95 Very dangerous winds will produce some damage
2 96 – 110 Extremely dangerous winds will cause extensive damage
3 111 – 129 Devastating damage will occur
4 130 – 156 Catastrophic damage will occur
5 > 156 Catastrophic damage will occur


In addition to the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale architects should be familiar with these hurricane scientific terms.


  1. Advisory:

Official information issued by tropical cyclone warning centers describing all tropical cyclone watches and warnings in effect along with details concerning tropical cyclone locations, intensity and movement, and precautions that should be taken. Advisories are also issued to describe: (a) tropical cyclones prior to issuance of watches and warnings and (b) subtropical cyclones.


  1. Cyclone:

An atmospheric closed circulation rotating counter-clockwise in the Northern Hemisphere and clockwise in the Southern Hemisphere.


  1. Direct Hit:

A close approach of a tropical cyclone to a particular location. For locations on the left-hand side of a tropical cyclone’s track (looking in the direction of motion), a direct hit occurs when the cyclone passes to within a distance equal to the cyclone’s radius of maximum wind. For locations on the right-hand side of the track, a direct hit occurs when the cyclone passes to within a distance equal to twice the radius of maximum wind. Compare indirect hit, strike.


  1. Fujiwhara Effect:

The tendency of two nearby tropical cyclones to rotate cyclonically about each other.


  1. Gale Warning:

A warning of 1-minute sustained surface winds in the range 34 kt (39 mph or 63 km/hr) to 47 kt (54 mph or 87 km/hr) inclusive, either predicted or occurring and not directly associated with tropical cyclones.


  1. High Wind Warning:

A high wind warning is defined as 1-minute average surface winds of 35 kt (40 mph or 64 km/hr) or greater lasting for 1 hour or longer, or winds gusting to 50 kt (58 mph or 93 km/hr) or greater regardless of duration that are either expected or observed over land.


  1. Hurricane / Typhoon:

A tropical cyclone in which the maximum sustained surface wind (using the U.S. 1-minute average) is 64 kt (74 mph or 119 km/hr) or more. The term hurricane is used for Northern Hemisphere tropical cyclones east of the International Dateline to the Greenwich Meridian. The term typhoon is used for Pacific tropical cyclones north of the Equator west of the International Dateline.


  1. Hurricane Warning:

An announcement that sustained winds of 64 knots (74 mph or 119 km/hr) or higher are expected somewhere within the specified area in association with atropical, subtropical, or post-tropical cyclone. Because hurricane preparedness activities become difficult once winds reach tropical storm force, the warning is issued 36 hours in advance of the anticipated onset of tropical-storm-force winds. The warning can remain in effect when dangerously high water or a combination of dangerously high water and waves continue, even though winds may be less than hurricane force.


  1. Hurricane Watch:

An announcement that sustained winds of 64 knots (74 mph or 119 km/hr) or higher are possible within the specified area in association with a tropical,subtropical, or post-tropical cyclone. Because hurricane preparedness activities become difficult once winds reach tropical storm force, the hurricane watch is issued 48 hours in advance of the anticipated onset of tropical storm force winds.


  1. Landfall:

The intersection of the surface center of a tropical cyclone with a coastline. Because the strongest winds in a tropical cyclone are not located precisely at the center, it is possible for a cyclone’s strongest winds to be experienced over land even if landfall does not occur. Similarly, it is possible for a tropical cyclone to make landfall and have its strongest winds remain over the water. Compare direct hit, indirect hit, and strike.


  1. Major Hurricane:

A hurricane that is classified as Category 3 or higher.


  1. Storm Surge:

An abnormal rise in sea level accompanying a hurricane or other intense storm, and whose height is the difference between the observed level of the sea surface and the level that would have occurred in the absence of the cyclone. Storm surge is usually estimated by subtracting the normal or astronomic high tide from the observed storm tide.


These terms are taken from the National Hurricane Center web site and can be found at You can find these and other pertinent information at this great web site.  Now that you have been updated with the essential jargon you can proceed fearlessly into the realm of meteorology.


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