What’s the difference between a tropical storm and a hurricane?


The main difference between the two is wind speed. A storm with winds between 39 and 73 mph is a tropical storm. Once winds reach 74 mph, it becomes a hurricane.

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Pat Howard

Pat Howard

Senior Editor & Licensed Home Insurance Expert

Pat Howard is a senior editor and licensed home insurance agent at Policygenius, where he specializes in homeowners insurance. His work and expertise has been featured in MarketWatch, Real Simple, Fox Business, VentureBeat, This Old House, Investopedia, Fatherly, Lifehacker, Better Homes & Garden, Property Casualty 360, and elsewhere.

Updated May 16, 2022 | 5 min read

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The 2022 Atlantic hurricane season is expected to see a total of 19 named storms: 10 tropical storms, five minor hurricanes, and four major hurricanes. [1] While each of these can be categorized as a tropical storm, there are important differences you should be aware of to ensure you’re adequately prepared. 

  • A tropical storm is a tropical cyclone with maximum sustained wind speeds of 39 to 73 mph.

  • A hurricane is a tropical cyclone with maximum sustained wind speeds of 74 mph or higher. 

While tropical storms and hurricanes both bring heavy winds, rain, storm surge, and the potential for catastrophic damage, hurricanes have the potential to be far more severe. Wind speeds for a Category 4 hurricane, for example, are roughly double that of a tropical storm. 

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Hurricane vs. tropical storm: What are the different storm categories?

A hurricane is the most intense type of tropical weather system — characterized by a calm, low-pressure center surrounded by a violent eyewall with severe thunderstorms and high winds. Once a tropical storm’s winds reach 74 mph, it officially turns into a Category 1 hurricane.

A hurricane is given a 1 to 5 rating depending on its maximum sustained wind speed, according to the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale. Sustained wind is defined as average wind speeds over the course of one minute, as opposed to a simple gust of wind. 

There are five different hurricane categories. A Category 1 hurricane has lower wind speeds, while a Category 5 has the highest wind speeds.

CategoryWind speedSeverity
174-95 mphMinimal
296-110 mphModerate
3111-129 mphExtensive
4130-156 mphExtreme
5157+ mphCatastrophic

→ Find out what states have the most hurricanes

What are the different stages of a tropical storm?

A tropical cyclone goes through multiple phases of development before it officially becomes a hurricane. Here’s a breakdown of the four stages in a hurricane’s life cycle.

Stage 1: Tropical disturbance

A tropical disturbance usually forms in tropical waters near the equator. Once water warms to around 80 degrees Fahrenheit, it turns into moist air and rises, eventually condensing and forming columns of clouds.

This cloud formation generally leads to rain and additional thunderstorm clouds as the storm system moves through the water. At this point, the system isn’t generating high wind speeds, but it isforming the foundation of the hurricane. 

Stage 2: Tropical depression

As the clouds continue to rise and get larger, a cooler, higher pressure area starts to form at the top of the cloud columns. Wind is pushed outward away from the high-pressure area, creating areas of low pressure near the surface of the water. 

Air is then funneled toward the lowest pressure area (the eye of the storm), which rises and forms circulating winds and thunderstorms. The storm is officially a tropical depression once wind speeds reach 25 to 38 mph. 

Stage 3: Tropical storm

A tropical depression is upgraded to a tropical storm once sustained wind speeds reach at least 39 mph. This is also when the storm is officially named. By this point, the storm is starting to closely resemble a hurricane. 

Stage 4: Hurricane 

Once the cyclone reaches sustained wind speeds of at least 74 mph, it’s officially upgraded to a hurricane. 

Hurricanes are typically 50,000 feet high and 125 miles across, with an eye of around 5 to 30 miles wide, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). [2]  

Water typically accumulates at the eye of the storm, which can lead to catastrophic storm surge and flooding once the hurricane makes landfall. In fact, storm surge, not wind, is the most dangerous component of a hurricane, according to the NOAA. [3]

Cyclone vs. typhoon vs. hurricane: Understanding the difference

Hurricanes, typhoons, and cyclones are all types of tropical storms with the same composition and characteristics. The main difference between the three is their geographical location.

  • A tropical cyclone is a tropical storm that occurs in the South Pacific and Indian Oceans.

  • A typhoon is a tropical storm that occurs in the Northwest Pacific Ocean.

  • A hurricane is a tropical storm that appears in the North Atlantic and Northeast Pacific Oceans.

What are the hurricane names for 2022?

After a 2021 Atlantic hurricane season that saw 21 named storms (the third-most active on record), the 2022 season is expected to be a similarly busy year in the tropics. 

Here are the 21 storm names for the 2022 Atlantic hurricane season, as established by the World Meteorological Organization.

  • Alex

  • Bonnie

  • Colin

  • Danielle

  • Earl

  • Fiona

  • Gaston

  • Hermine

  • Ian

  • Julia

  • Karl

  • Lisa

  • Martin

  • Nicole

  • Owen

  • Paula

  • Richard

  • Shary

  • Tobias

  • Virginie

  • Walter

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Tropical storms vs. hurricanes in homeowners insurance

A standard homeowners insurance policy covers wind damage, including damage caused by tropical storm or hurricane winds

But in many hurricane-prone states, insurance companies will only cover tropical storm or hurricane damage if certain conditions are met. This usually means you’ll have a separate named storm or hurricane deductible for damage caused by named storms. 

What is a named storm or hurricane deductible?

A named storm or hurricane deductible is separate from your standard homeowners insurance deductible. It’s only triggered for damage to your home or belongings caused by a hurricane or named storm.

These deductibles are generally higher than the standard policy deductible applied for fire, theft, and other types of covered damages. This allows insurers to provide coverage in high-risk areas and keep home insurance rates down. Without the separate deductible options, insurance companies likely wouldn’t be able to take on the high risk.

The history of hurricane deductibles

Nineteen states and Washington, D.C. have some type of hurricane or named storm deductible in place. Insurance companies began implementing these deductibles in 1992 after Hurricane Andrew caused around $16 billion in insured losses. They became even more common after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, a storm that caused $65 billion in insured losses. 

How do named storm or hurricane deductibles work?

Your policy deductible is the amount you’re responsible for paying before your insurance will kick in to cover a claim. Most policies apply a single dollar amount deductible, like $500 or $1,000, for every type of loss covered by your policy. 

But in many hurricane-prone states, insurance companies apply a separate, higher deductible for wind damage caused by a hurricane or named storm. In some states like Texas, this deductible may apply to any type of wind damage, regardless of the storm type. 

Named storm deductibles are generally listed as a percentage of 1% to 10% of your home’s dwelling coverage amount rather than a set dollar amount. 

Let’s take a look at an example.

If your home is insured for $300,000 and you have a 3% hurricane deductible, you have to pay $9,000 out of pocket before your insurance will cover the remainder of a hurricane damage claim. 

Similar to your regular deductible, you choose your percentage deductible when setting up your policy. A higher percentage deductible means lower rates, but make sure it’s set at an amount you can afford if you need to file a claim. 

In some states, insurance companies may trigger separate percentage deductibles depending on whether the damage was caused by a tropical storm or a hurricane. 

  • Named storm deductible: Applies to named tropical storms that reach maximum sustained wind speeds of 39 mph.

  • Hurricane deductible: Applies to named storms that reach maximum sustained wind speeds of 74 mph

These deductibles are often triggered once the National Weather Service or National Hurricane Center officially declares a named storm or hurricane warning.

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