We are independent & ad-supported. We may earn a commission for purchases made through our links.
Advertiser Disclosure
Our website is an independent, advertising-supported platform. We provide our content free of charge to our readers, and to keep it that way, we rely on revenue generated through advertisements and affiliate partnerships. This means that when you click on certain links on our site and make a purchase, we may earn a commission. Learn more.
How We Make Money
We sustain our operations through affiliate commissions and advertising. If you click on an affiliate link and make a purchase, we may receive a commission from the merchant at no additional cost to you. We also display advertisements on our website, which help generate revenue to support our work and keep our content free for readers. Our editorial team operates independently of our advertising and affiliate partnerships to ensure that our content remains unbiased and focused on providing you with the best information and recommendations based on thorough research and honest evaluations. To remain transparent, we’ve provided a list of our current affiliate partners here.

What Is a Tropical Storm?

By Sherry Holetzky
Updated Jun 04, 2024
Our promise to you
All Things Nature is dedicated to creating trustworthy, high-quality content that always prioritizes transparency, integrity, and inclusivity above all else. Our ensure that our content creation and review process includes rigorous fact-checking, evidence-based, and continual updates to ensure accuracy and reliability.

Our Promise to you

Founded in 2002, our company has been a trusted resource for readers seeking informative and engaging content. Our dedication to quality remains unwavering—and will never change. We follow a strict editorial policy, ensuring that our content is authored by highly qualified professionals and edited by subject matter experts. This guarantees that everything we publish is objective, accurate, and trustworthy.

Over the years, we've refined our approach to cover a wide range of topics, providing readers with reliable and practical advice to enhance their knowledge and skills. That's why millions of readers turn to us each year. Join us in celebrating the joy of learning, guided by standards you can trust.

Editorial Standards

At All Things Nature, we are committed to creating content that you can trust. Our editorial process is designed to ensure that every piece of content we publish is accurate, reliable, and informative.

Our team of experienced writers and editors follows a strict set of guidelines to ensure the highest quality content. We conduct thorough research, fact-check all information, and rely on credible sources to back up our claims. Our content is reviewed by subject-matter experts to ensure accuracy and clarity.

We believe in transparency and maintain editorial independence from our advertisers. Our team does not receive direct compensation from advertisers, allowing us to create unbiased content that prioritizes your interests.

A tropical storm is an intense storm, characterized by extremely low pressure and swirling wind rotation, that usually develops in the tropics. These storms can bring damaging wind and very heavy rain to the areas they pass over. Though tropical storms are less powerful than hurricanes, they can still be quite destructive, causing property damage, injury, and death.

Development

Tropical storms require a combination of factors to develop:

  • ocean water warmer than 80°F (26.5°C),
  • an atmospheric disturbance, usually an area of low pressure and cool air, and
  • low vertical wind shear, meaning that wind speeds must be consistent at different altitudes

Even when these factors are combined, tropical storms can only develop a certain distance from the equator. This is because the Coriolis effect, caused by the earth's rotation, is too weak near the equator to give a developing storm the necessary spin.

Storm

Such storms begin as an atmospheric disturbance of low pressure. Wind moves into the low-pressure area from surrounding areas of high pressure. As warm ocean water heats the air, it rises at the center of the developing storm where it condenses, causing thunderstorms. The system essentially feeds on itself, using warm ocean water as its fuel. Tropical storms usually show a recognizable pattern of rotation when viewed as a satellite image, but do not typically have the well-defined spiral pattern and eye associated with hurricanes.

Tropical cyclones are an important part of nature, as they carry heat from lower latitudes near the equator to the more northerly latitudes. These storms can develop in many different parts of the world, including the Atlantic Ocean, the Pacific Ocean, the Indian Ocean, near Australia and the South Pacific, and in the Bay of Bengal and the Arabian Sea.

Tropical Cyclones vs. Tropical Storms

Because of the swirling or cyclonic action, the term tropical cyclone is sometimes used to describe tropical storms; however, this name more accurately refers to an entire class of weather systems. Tropical cyclones are classified by sustained wind speed. To be a tropical storm, wind speeds must be between 39 and 73 mph (63 to 118 kph). When wind speeds are lower, the weather disturbance is labeled a tropical depression. Storms with speeds over 73 mph (118 kph) are called hurricanes, typhoons, or even simply cyclones, depending on where they develop.

Dangers

Tropical storms can cause damage in several ways. Perhaps the biggest danger is the heavy rainfall that accompanies tropical storms, which can cause severe flooding and mudslides. Rainfall totals of 3 feet (1 meter) over the course of several days is not uncommon with such storms, even at some distance from the coast where the storm made landfall.

High wind speeds can turn things like signs, outdoor furniture, and tree limbs into high-speed flying projectiles, creating a hazard for humans and animals, and potentially breaking windows and damaging or destroying buildings. The wind can also cause big waves, which can endanger boaters and coastal dwellers. The high storm tide or storm surge that comes with tropical storms can sweep over lowland areas, destroying property and killing and injuring people in its wake. Tropical storms can also spawn tornadoes, which can cause additional destruction.

Storm

Even though it is less powerful than a hurricane, a tropical storm that hits land, especially in a heavily settled region, may cause significant damage. Three tropical storms that hit the Southeastern United States in 1979, 1994, and 2001 — named Claudette, Alberto, and Allison — killed a total of more than 40 people and caused nearly $6 billion in damage. In December 2011, Tropical Storm Washi swept across the Philippines, killing more than 700 people, leaving thousands homeless, and causing untold damage.

Factors that Weaken Storms

Wind speeds for tropical storms often diminish as they cross over land because the storms depend upon warm water for fuel. Despite this, they can continue to cause damage as they plow inland, usually due to heavy rainfall. Tropical storms also tend to slow down as they move over cooler ocean waters.

Naming Storms

Tropical cyclones have been given names since an Australian weatherman began naming them after people he didn't like in the early 1900s. Starting in 1953 in the U.S., all tropical storms were given women's names picked by the U.S. Weather Bureau and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). Since 1979, men and women's names have been used in an alternating pattern by the National Hurricane Center in the U.S. In other parts of the world, like Asia, tropical storms may be named for flowers, animals, and other things, in addition to people.

There are lists of names to be used each year in different parts of the world, with names being recycled and used again every six years. The WMO may vote to remove a name from the lists permanently if a storm has caused extreme damage or loss of life. In the U.S., no names start with the letters Q, U, X, Y, or Z. If storms outnumber names on the list for a given year, storms occurring after the year's list has been exhausted will be named for letters of the Greek alphabet, such as Alpha or Beta.

Storm Precautions

A tropical storm watch is an advisory made when conditions in a specific area are right for the development of such storms within 36 hours. People in the area should pay close attention to weather forecasts and to any developing storm's strength, location, and predicted path. If a tropical storm warning is issued, storm conditions are imminent within the next 24 hours. When a warning has been issued, people should take safety precautions immediately. These can include moving away from the coast and relocating to a storm shelter if possible.

All Things Nature is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Link to Sources
Discussion Comments
By anon307221 — On Dec 04, 2012

How often do tropical storms happen?

By Fa5t3r — On Nov 14, 2012

@anon120718 - The World Meteorological Organisation gives the names to storms (as it says in the article). I believe they take names from the local area around where the storm is located and have a complex system so that they don't use the same names too often.

If a storm is bad enough that it will live on the public mind, the name is retired. So, for example, the name Sandy won't be used again for a storm and any current tropical storms would be named according to the list developed by the WMO.

By clintflint — On Nov 13, 2012

@anon242344 - It does, under the subtitle "Development". It's not an in depth coverage, because this is a general overview of the topic. I'm sure if you look you could find articles that address how a tropical storm develops in more detail.

By anon242344 — On Jan 23, 2012

Article doesn't tell you how tropical storms form.

By anon120718 — On Oct 21, 2010

Where do the names of an hurricane come from? or who gives those names to hurricanes that develop?

By anon88332 — On Jun 04, 2010

Southwest Indian Ocean: Name: Quentin(2009-2010); Qoli(2007-2008); Quincy(2005-2006; 2006-2007)

By anon44063 — On Sep 04, 2009

No a cyclone can't be category 7.

I don't think it could go to CO. The remains of the cyclone could. but that would be showers and t-storms and maybe some wind.

By anon17154 — On Aug 23, 2008

can a cyclone be category 7?

By anon16325 — On Aug 03, 2008

Do tropical storms travel all the way Denver, CO?

On this page
All Things Nature, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.

All Things Nature, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.