During the summer months, Texas, Louisiana, and other coastal states often experience tropical weather events. These powerful seasonal storms can cause many instances of property damage through flooding and forceful winds. Despite their similarities, however, these storm systems are classified differently. Knowing the difference between a tropical storm and a hurricane can help property owners be more informed on what to expect well before they make landfall.
Tropical Storms, Hurricanes, and Other Tropical Weather Events
When summertime storms happen along the coast, they can bring significant amounts of rain and wind. When it comes to categorizing storms, however, it’s important to note that they form the same way. This is because a hurricane is essentially a much more powerful version of a tropical storm. Despite this, both often create confusion among coastal residents due to how similar they are. While they may have many similarities, they also have distinct factors that separate them from one another.
Both hurricanes and tropical storms start off as tropical depressions. Sometimes referred to by meteorologists as a tropical wave, tropical disturbance, or tropical system, tropical depressions are defined by having cyclones with winds of up to 38 miles per hour or less. Despite having a cyclone, these systems are not as strong as those that form in a hurricane, which can spawn tornadoes. Tropical storms can still generate significant amounts of rain, thunderstorms, and devastating flood activity.
Tropical depressions turn into tropical storms once a cyclone’s circulation becomes stronger and has sustained wind speeds of up to 73 miles per hour. Tropical storms can produce large amounts of rain and can create enough wind and wave activity to cause damage to boats and erode beaches. From this point, meteorologists will begin to categorize these systems according to the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale. The scale is on a 1 to 5 category rating and measures sustained wind speed. Once the winds of a tropical storm reach 74 miles per hour, it is classified as a Category 1 hurricane.
Once a storm has sustained winds of over 74 miles per hour, a distinct spiral arrangement of thunderstorms with a low-pressure center is formed, creating a hurricane. Also known as a typhoon in the Pacific Ocean, hurricanes are the most dangerous and devastating type of tropical system. The earth’s rotation causes these systems to accelerate toward the poles if the ocean’s current doesn’t steer them. According to the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale, hurricanes that reach a Category 3 or higher are considered to be “major” due to their potential to cause significant damage and loss of life.
The Dangers of Tropical Storms and Hurricanes
Once fully formed, a tropical storm or hurricane can present serious dangers to life and property. Not only that, but hurricanes can have major impacts on natural environments along the coast. Huge amounts of sand can be moved along beaches and beyond, large boulders and rocks can be carried in powerful storm surges, and high winds can topple trees and throw debris into communities.
As a tropical system moves inland, it can cause the sea level to rise as much as 20 to 30 feet. The low pressure of these storms allows the water level to creep higher and higher, submerging low-lying areas. Combined with crashing ocean waves, the storm surge can demolish docks, piers, houses, businesses, and erode beaches. While storm surge floods don’t normally last very long, they can cause a tremendous amount of damage. After traveling inland, a storm or hurricane will begin to slowly weaken; however, as many know, they can still cause substantial damage. Torrential rains generated by these systems can cause rivers and lakes to flood and mudslides to form, while heavy winds can move vehicles and rip roofing off of homes and businesses.
Some of the most prolific tropical storm systems Texas has seen include:
The Galveston Hurricane of 1900
Known as one of the deadliest natural disasters in US history, the Galveston Hurricane of 1900 resulted in between 6,000 to 12,000 fatalities. Occurring on September 8, 1900, the low-elevation island of Galveston was struck by a Category 4 Hurricane with 135 mile-per-hour winds and a deadly tidal surge.
At the time, hurricane forecasting was not as sophisticated as it is today, which was contributed to the high death rate. The US Weather Bureau relied on warnings from arriving ships or telegraphed warnings from islands in the Caribbean. Warnings from Cuban meteorologists of the impending storm were largely ignored by locals. Although the Weather Bureau eventually issued a hurricane warning for Galveston, it was issued only a day before it made landfall.
Tropical Storm Allison
Although Tropical Storm Allison never reached hurricane status due to its low-level winds, it resulted in catastrophic flood damage. Forming out of a tropical wave off the coast of Africa, Tropical Storm Allison made landfall in Texas on June 5, 2001. Allison moved inland, quickly weakening after it made landfall, and drifting into Houston. Over the next four days, the area saw heavy rains and mass flooding, with Harris County receiving up to 36.99 inches of rain.
Damage from Allison cost upwards of $8.5 billion, making it the costliest tropical storm on record in the Atlantic basin. In total, Allison destroyed over 73,000 homes, 95,000 cars, 200 Houston-area schools, and closed four Houston hospitals in the Texas Medical Center.
Hurricane Harvey made landfall in August 2017 as a Category 4 hurricane off the coast of Galveston. Harvey resulted in a whopping $125 billion in losses. The storm’s heavy rains – that have often been compared to those of Tropical Storm Allison – resulted in upwards of 30 inches in the Houston area, causing mass flooding across the city. Over 200,000 homes and businesses were damaged or destroyed by Harvey. Many still have not fully recovered nearly four years after the storm made landfall.
Texas Hurricane Property Damage Attorneys
Despite having differences, tropical storms and hurricanes can both be incredibly devastating. While commercial property owners in Texas know just how damaging these storms can be, their insurance providers will sometimes offer little help when it comes to recouping the cost of their losses. At Raizner Law, our attorneys are well versed in the many tactics insurance companies use to delay, underpay, or deny valid claims. Contact us today to see how we can help you.
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