What is an Ocean Storm?

Ken Black

An ocean storm may refer to any storm in the ocean, but most commonly refers to cyclonic systems that begin or gain strength at sea. These storms get the most attention when they come in the form of tropical cyclones, but these cyclones represent just one portion of the ocean storm systems in the world. An ocean storm system can be a very serious event, and can threaten ships at sea, as well as property on land.

A tropical cyclone.
A tropical cyclone.

Cyclones are storms that have an air mass that rotates around a low pressure center. The closer to the center of this type of ocean storm, the more severe the winds will be, but the entire storm system can still be quite dangerous. In the Northern Hemisphere, these systems rotate counterclockwise. The opposite rotation is seen in the Southern Hemisphere.

An ocean storm can be extremely dangerous for mariners.
An ocean storm can be extremely dangerous for mariners.

The reason why tropical cyclones get the most media attention is because they are the single-most destructive weather events on Earth, if they make landfall. In the Atlantic Ocean, ocean storm systems come off the coast of Africa, and gather strength over warm water as they travel to the west, and may eventually threaten land in the Caribbean, as well as the American continents. These systems may also weaken or turn away from land, eventually losing strength in wind shear or while over cooler water.

Beaches are usually closed off to the public when storms are in the area.
Beaches are usually closed off to the public when storms are in the area.

Hurricanes also form in other parts of the Earth, though they are usually called cyclones or typhoons if they form outside of the Atlantic. They form in both the Pacific and Indian oceans in locations where the water is warmer. In these areas, they can threaten lower Asia, Baja California or Mexico. In some cases, these ocean storm systems may be even more serious than Atlantic hurricanes, because of lax building standards and higher populations in coastal areas.

Ocean storms can cause higher waves, forcing ships to change course and forcing people out of ocean water.
Ocean storms can cause higher waves, forcing ships to change course and forcing people out of ocean water.

In addition to tropical cyclones, there are other cyclones named by the latitudes at which they are found. These include extra-tropical cyclones, mid-latitude cyclones and polar lows. While these systems are generally not as strong as tropical systems, they can cause damage. Ships may be forced to seek alternate routes in order to avoid higher ocean storm waves.

Not only do these storms cause problems on the high seas, they can also cause problems near shore and onshore, even if they never hit land. Strong ocean currents and high waves have the potential to overwhelm swimmers, which is why many communities shut down beaches when a storm is in the area. Also, high seas can cause significant beach erosion, leading to expensive restoration efforts.

Most typhoons and cyclones are capable of causing major flooding.
Most typhoons and cyclones are capable of causing major flooding.

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Discussion Comments


I arrived at my hotel on the beach a week after a tropical storm had passed through, and I could tell a difference. There wasn't any widespread damage, but quite a few interesting sea creatures had washed up near the shore and were swimming in shallow water.

I got to see my first live starfish. I also saw a huge blue crab and interesting shells on the shore. Since this is my favorite vacation spot, I know what to expect, and these were all out of the ordinary.

I suppose these creatures normally live in deeper water. The storm surge had pushed them forward, giving me an opportunity to view them for the first time.


I think that people who stay near the ocean during a hurricane are crazy. Some of them even have hurricane parties and make light of the situation.

Several times, these people have died during the storms. I can imagine their horror as the celebratory mood turned serious.

I live near the coast, and though I do hate thinking about what is happening to my property after I have evacuated, I see no reason to stay there. People act like they have to protect their homes, but how can they battle a giant as powerful as a hurricane? They risk their lives for nothing.


@Perdido – The difference is in the wind speed. A tropical depression has the lowest wind speed, followed by a tropical storm and then a hurricane. I am very interested in ocean storms, because I own a vacation home on the Gulf coast.

Hurricanes often start out as tropical depressions. If they gain strength, they become tropical storms, and if they continue to grow, they get classified as hurricanes. Hurricanes have a wind speed of at least 74 mph, and they are categorized by strength, with a Category 1 being the weakest and Category 5 being the strongest.

I go to my vacation home every summer, and I have seen what a hurricane can do to a building. Two of the hotels near my home were absolutely gutted by the storm surge from a hurricane, but somehow, my place was spared.


I am a bit confused about the different names for ocean storms. What is the difference between a tropical depression, a tropical storm, and a hurricane? I know that a hurricane is the most intense storm you can have, but what does a storm have to be to qualify as the other two?

I am planning on going to Florida in July, and I want to know what to look out for. Obviously, if there are hurricane warnings, I will stay away, but what about tropical depressions or storms? Are they dangerous enough to make me cancel my vacation?

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