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Tropical Storm Definitions and Acronyms

Storm Preppers - Tropical Storm Definitions and Acronyms - Updated

Each year, the Colorado State University (CSU) publishes several hurricane forecasts for the Atlantic basin. Although anyone can read and interpret these forecasts, there are some terms and acronyms that may be unfamiliar. As a result, the CSU includes a list of tropical storm definitions and acronyms that are used throughout the forecasts. This makes it easier for the average reader to adequately understand the text.

Tropical Storm Definitions and Acronyms

Here are key tropical storm definitions and acronyms from the CSU’s Extended Range Forecast document for 2019.

Atlantic Basin

The area including the entire North Atlantic Ocean, the Caribbean Sea, and the Gulf of Mexico.

El Niño

A 12-18 month period during which anomalously warm sea surface temperatures occur in the eastern half of the equatorial Pacific. Moderate or strong El Niño events occur irregularly, about once every 3-7 years on average.

Hurricane (H)

A tropical cyclone with sustained low-level winds of 74 miles per hour (33 ms-1 or 64 knots) or greater.

Hurricane Day (HD)

A measure of hurricane activity, one unit of which occurs as four 6-hour periods during which a tropical cyclone is observed or is estimated to have hurricane-force winds.

Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD)

An irregular oscillation of sea surface temperatures between the western and eastern tropical Indian Ocean. A positive phase of the IOD occurs when the western Indian Ocean is anomalously warm compared with the eastern Indian Ocean.

Madden Julian Oscillation (MJO)

A globally propagating mode of tropical atmospheric intra-seasonal variability. The wave tends to propagate eastward at approximately 5 ms-1, circling the globe in roughly 30-60 days.

Main Development Region (MDR)

An area in the tropical Atlantic where a majority of major hurricanes form, which we define as 7.5-22.5°N, 75-20°W.

Major Hurricane (MH)

A hurricane which reaches a sustained low-level wind of at least 111 mph (96 knots or 50 ms-1) at some point in its lifetime. This constitutes a category 3 or higher on the Saffir/Simpson scale.

Major Hurricane Day (MHD)

Four 6-hour periods during which a hurricane has an intensity of Saffir/Simpson category 3 or higher.

Multivariate ENSO Index (MEI)

An index defining ENSO that takes into account tropical Pacific sea surface temperatures, sea level pressures, zonal and meridional winds and cloudiness.

Named Storm (NS)

A hurricane, a tropical storm or a sub-tropical storm.

Named Storm Day (NSD)

As in HD but for four 6-hour periods during which a tropical or sub-tropical cyclone is observed (or is estimated) to have attained tropical storm-force winds.

Net Tropical Cyclone (NTC) Activity

Average seasonal percentage mean of NS, NSD, H, HD, MH, MHD. Gives overall indication of Atlantic basin seasonal hurricane activity. The 1950-2000 average value of this parameter is 100.


An approximation or a substitution for a physical process that cannot be directly measured.

Saffir/Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale

A measurement scale ranging from 1 to 5 of hurricane wind intensity. One is a weak hurricane; whereas, five is the most intense hurricane.

Southern Oscillation Index (SOI)

A normalized measure of the surface pressure difference between Tahiti and Darwin. Low values typically indicate El Niño conditions.

Standard Deviation (SD)

A measure used to quantify the variation in a dataset.

Sea Surface Temperature Anomaly (SSTA)

Thermohaline Circulation (THC)

A large-scale circulation in the Atlantic Ocean that is driven by fluctuations in salinity and temperature. When the THC is stronger than normal, the AMO tends to be in its warm (or positive) phase, and more Atlantic hurricanes typically form.

Tropical Cyclone (TC)

A large-scale circular flow occurring within the tropics and subtropics which has its strongest winds at low levels; including hurricanes, tropical storms and other weaker rotating vortices.

Tropical North Atlantic (TNA) index – A measure of sea surface temperatures in the area from 5.5-23.5°N, 57.5-15°W.

Tropical Storm (TS)

A tropical cyclone with maximum sustained winds between 39 mph (18 ms-1 or 34 knots) and 73 mph (32 ms-1 or 63 knots).

Vertical Wind Shear

The difference in horizontal wind between 200 mb (approximately 40000 feet or 12 km) and 850 mb (approximately 5000 feet or 1.6 km).

1 knot = 1.15 miles per hour = 0.515 meters per second

Reference: The Colorado State University

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