October 24, 2022

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The beach block in Ortley Beach, NJ. The houses are gone, and the black wavy stuff on the ground is pavement from somewhere else. Casino Pier and the Jet Star are in the background. Photo by Joe DiPompeo, PE, SECB, F.SEI, F.ASCE 


by Laurence E. Parisi, AIA

I recall in architectural school at NYIT, there was a special section in the computer department for architects. This section was established to enable architectural students to complete their course requirements. It was explained to me that architects were at a disadvantage as “architectural” logic did not jive with the “computer” logic. Basically, this course was something akin to “Computers for Architects 101”. Fast forward to today, it is widely recognized that computer programmers, and other tech professionals, have adopted the title “architect”, such as “software architect”. The use of the title “architect” has been spread very thin in almost every area of expertise. I see that almost everyone has adopted the title of architect. It must be a significant title, for us, it is a profession.


Inside a modular house in Ortley Beach, NJ. A neighbor’s couch is coming through the window. Photo by Joe DiPompeo, PE, SECB, F.SEI, F.ASCE

In today’s meteorological world, amidst all of the specialized technology and computer modeling, we often find ourselves wondering, “What is going on with the weather?” It seems that weather forecasting is very lame unless they are following a storm across the country. Even then a change in the direction of the wind throws all predictions off. Further, as the weather becomes more unpredictable and severe, architects have to be able to plan and design accordingly. As we are inundated with weather terminology, myths, and folklore predictions, I believe it’s prudent for architects to have a sound working knowledge of the essential scientific weather terms in order to embrace some meteorological skills. Below I’ve listed 12 weather-related terms for a basis for “Hurricanes for Architects 101.1”. This will encourage a more significant rapport between architects and meteorologists. 

For starters, you should know that the Hurricane season is from June 1 to November 30. Superstorm 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 Category 1 through Category 5, as it is important and relative to the Saffir-Simpson Scale. 

The “Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale” in a nutshell:

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


A modular house in Ortley Beach, NJ, that stayed intact but moved several lots down the block. It was several lots to the right before the storm. Phot by Joe DiPompeo, PE, SECB, F.SEI, F.ASCE

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 the issuance of watches and warnings and (b) subtropical cyclones.

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

3. 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, and strike.

4. Fujiwhara Effect:
The tendency of two nearby tropical cyclones to rotate cyclonically about each other.

5. 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.


The beachfront in Ortley Beach, NJ. The darker sand in the background is the emergency dune that was installed. You can see the amount of scour and erosion on the fire hydrant and how mother nature played with the pavement like it was a toy. Photo by Joe DiPompeo, PE, SECB, F.SEI, F.ASCE

6. 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.

7. 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

8. 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 cyclones. 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.

9. 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.

10. 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.


A house on the beach in Bay Head, NJ, that originally had a side porch attached to it. The house suffered severe damage but was still standing. The side porch was nowhere to be found but a bookshelf was still attached to the wall and the books were still intact and books on the shelf-outside now. Photo by Joe DiPompeo, PE, SECB, F.SEI, F.ASCE

11. Major Hurricane:
A hurricane that is classified as Category 3 or higher.

12. 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 website and can be found HERE. You can find this and other pertinent information on this great website. Now that you have been updated with the essential jargon you can proceed fearlessly into the realm of meteorology.

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