Provided below are answers to questions frequently asked by visitors traveling in or with plans to travel to Florida during hurricane season. It is important to note that a direct hit to a particular destination anywhere in the state by a major hurricane is a rare event. Floridians have learned to prepare for these storms and respect their impact potential.
Florida Emergency Management and VISIT FLORIDA Information Resources
- VISIT FLORIDA travel advisories on www.VISITFLORIDA.com
- General hurricane media inquiries: media line, Florida Division of Emergency Management/State Emergency Response Team, (850) 921-0217
- Tourism-related media inquiries: Sara Sowerby, VISIT FLORIDA Communications Manager, at (850) 205-3865 or ssowerby@VISITFLORIDA.org
- VISIT FLORIDA Partners and businesses in the Florida tourism industry: industry hotline, (877) 435-2872
- General tourism information: VISIT FLORIDA consumer hotline, 888-735-2872
Where can I get real-time advisories for hurricanes/tropical storms?
Travel advisories at www.VISITFLORIDA.com provide visitors with real-time information from local tourism officials and links to advisories from these state and national sources:
What months are considered hurricane season?
The Atlantic hurricane season is officially June 1 to November 30. The peak of the season is from mid-August to mid-October.
What is a hurricane?
A hurricane is a tropical cyclone with a defined circulation and sustained winds of 74 miles per hour (65 knots) or greater in the North Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean Sea, Gulf of Mexico, and the eastern North Pacific Ocean. This same tropical cyclone is known as a typhoon in the western Pacific and a cyclone in the Indian Ocean.
What is the difference between a tropical storm watch, tropical storm warning, hurricane watch and hurricane warning?
The National Hurricane Center in Miami has the responsibility for monitoring and issuing watches and warnings in the Atlantic and Northeast basins. A tropical storm watch is issued when tropical storm conditions, including winds from 39-73 mph, pose a possible threat to a specified coastal area within 48 hours, and a warning when tropical storm conditions are expected within 36 hours or less. A hurricane watch is issued when hurricane conditions are expected within 48 hours, and a warning when a hurricane with sustained winds of 74 mph or higher is expected in a specified coastal area in 36 hours or less. If a warning or watch is issued, visitors should begin preliminary preparations for potential landfall and stay tuned to radio and TV for official weather and evacuation updates.
Should we cancel travel plans during hurricane season?
VISIT FLORIDA clearly understands that some people have concerns about the possible impact a hurricane could have on a planned vacation. It is always wise when making travel plans during hurricane season to check with airlines, hotels, car rental companies, etc. to find out how they inform their guests when a hurricane is approaching, what actions they plan to take, and what refund policies they have in place. Once again, it is important to point out that a direct hit to any one particular destination by a major hurricane is an extremely rare event.
What do travelers do if they are in Florida and a hurricane is approaching?
The safety of Florida's visitors is a priority to everyone who works in the tourism industry. VISIT FLORIDA works closely with the Florida Division of Emergency Management, local tourism offices throughout the state, as well as local, state and national media to ensure visitors have access to accurate and timely information that will help them make the most informed travel planning decisions possible. Visitors are encouraged to go to VISITFLORIDA.com to follow the latest weather and travel updates, in addition to staying tuned to local television and radio stations. If visitors are asked to evacuate from coastal areas, please follow the instructions of the emergency response officials.
How are hurricane categories determined? What do they mean?
The strength of hurricanes is rated using the Saffir/Simpson scale in the United States. This scale assigns a storm to one of five categories based on its wind speed. Category one is a minimal hurricane and category five is the strongest. Using this scale helps estimate the potential property damage and expected coastal flooding from a hurricane.
Categories are determined by Maximum Sustained Winds as follows:
- Category 1. 74-95 mph
- Category 2. 96-110 mph
- Category 3. 111-130 mph
- Category 4. 131-155 mph
- Category 5. 156+ mph
What is a tropical disturbance?
A tropical disturbance is an organized system of clouds and thunderstorms without a defined circulation.
What is a tropical depression?
A tropical depression is an organized system of clouds and thunderstorms with a circular wind circulation and maximum sustained winds less than 39 mph.
What is a tropical storm?
A tropical storm is an organized system of strong thunderstorms with defined circulation and maximum sustained winds of 39 to 73 mph.
What regions around the globe have hurricanes?
Hurricanes develop over tropical or subtropical waters around the world. There are seven tropical cyclone areas (basins) where storms occur:
- Atlantic basin (North Atlantic Ocean, Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean Sea)
- Northeast Pacific basin (from Mexico to the dateline)
- Northwest Pacific basin (from the dateline to Asia)
- North Indian basin (including the Bay of Bengal and Arabian Sea)
- Southwest India basin (Africa)
- Southeast Indian/Australian basin
- Australian/Southwest Pacific basin
What is the "eye" of the storm? What are rain bands?
The hurricane's core is called the "eye." The winds closest to the eye, typically averaging about 60 miles from the center of the storm, are the strongest and bring the most potential for damage. Rain bands, or outer spiral bands, are the bands of clouds and thunderstorms that trail away from the eye wall in a spiral fashion and are capable of producing heavy bursts of rain and wind. The spiral bands also make hurricanes appear to cover a much larger area with damaging winds than they really do. This is the reason why damage during strong storms does not cover the entire area the storm passes over.
Why are hurricanes named? Who names them?
The National Hurricane Center is responsible for naming tropical cyclones in the Atlantic basin. Hurricanes are named to provide ease of communication and reduce confusion between forecasters and the general public regarding forecasts, watches and warnings.
In what ways do hurricanes and tropical storms actually help Florida's environment?
According to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, hurricanes and tropical storms:
- Help to scrub harmful algae from coral reefs
- Prune dead limbs from trees allowing sunlight to penetrate the forest floor
- Deposit sand atop and on the backside of barrier islands, which elevates them, keeping islands from becoming a sand bar
- Moderate global temperature
- Produce rain that helps refill the aquifer
- Increases the water flow in natural springs
- Rehydrates dried out wetlands that benefit wildlife
- Downed trees are good for the scrub jays, increasing the endangered species' habitat.