Hurricanes | 2017 Back-to-School Topical Guide


The 2017 hurricane season brought back-to-back major storms — Harvey and Irma — followed shortly thereafter by the Category 5 Maria.

Hurricane Harvey made landfall Aug. 25 as a Category 4 storm about 30 miles (48 kilometers) northeast of Corpus Christi, Texas, then lingered just off the Gulf Coast. Harvey dropped 52 inches of rain in the Houston area as a hurricane and then tropical storm, causing catastrophic flooding and killing more than 70.

The Category 5 Hurricane Irma was the most potent Atlantic Ocean hurricane ever, with winds that have reached 185 mph. Irma was still a Category 5 when it raked Cuba's coast, the first hurricane that size to hit the storm-prone island since 1924. A Category 4 storm with 130 mph (210 kph) winds when it slammed into Florida’s Cudjoe Key on Sept. 10, Irma tied for history's seventh-strongest hurricane to make U.S. landfall, based on its central pressure. It killed at least 37. This was also the first year two Category 4 storms hit the United States.

On Sept. 18, Hurricane Maria grew to a Category 5 storm as the eye neared the Caribbean Island nation of Dominica. Maria made landfall Sept. 20 in Yabucoa, Puerto Rico, as a Category 4 storm, and went on to cause widespread devastation and power outages.

The Associated Press compiled a style guide of essential words, phrases and definitions related to the storm. Terms are from the AP Stylebook and usage in AP stories.

hurricane or typhoon A warm-core tropical cyclone in which the minimum sustained surface wind is 74 mph or more.

Hurricanes are spawned east of the international date line. Typhoons develop west of the line. They are known as cyclones in the Indian Ocean and Australia.

When a hurricane or typhoon loses strength (wind speed), usually after landfall, it is reduced to tropical storm status.

Capitalize hurricane when it is part of the name that weather forecasters assign to a storm: Hurricane Irma, Hurricane Harvey.

Use it and its -- not she, her or hers or he, him or his -- in pronoun references.

Once storms lose strength and are downgraded to tropical storm or tropical depression status, it may be clearer to simply use the storm's name on first reference: Officials released more water Monday from Houston-area reservoirs overwhelmed by Harvey. Give the storm's current status and history high in the story: Harvey came ashore as a major hurricane and has been downgraded to a tropical storm. After a storm is downgraded, phrasing such as storm Irma or the remnants of Hurricane Irma is also acceptable on first reference, with background later. In broad references to a hurricane and its aftermath: The damage and economic impact from Hurricane Harvey is substantial or the damage and economic impact from Irma is substantial. Do not call it a superstorm or Superstorm Irma.

hurricane categories

Hurricanes are ranked 1 to 5 according to what is known as the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale. Categories 3, 4 and 5 hurricanes are considered major hurricanes.

Category 1 — Winds of 74-95 mph (120-150 kph). Damage primarily to unanchored mobile homes, shrubbery and trees. Some damage to poorly constructed signs and piers. Extensive damage to power lines and poles likely will result in power outages that could last a few to several days.

Category 2 — Winds of 96-110 mph (155-175 kph). Some roof, door and window damage to buildings. Considerable damage to mobile homes, small watercraft, trees, poorly constructed signs and piers. Many shallowly rooted trees will be snapped or uprooted and block numerous roads. Near-total power loss is expected with outages that could last from several days to weeks.

Category 3 — Winds of 111-129 mph (180-210 kph). Some structural damage to small homes. Mobile homes destroyed and large trees blown down. Hurricane Katrina, the costliest natural disaster in U.S. history, was a Category 3 storm at landfall in 2005 after being a Category 5 in the Gulf of Mexico. As many as 1,800 people died, though some estimates are lower.

Category 4 — Winds of 130-156 mph (210-250 kph). Wall failures and roof collapses on small homes, and extensive damage to doors and windows. Complete destruction of some homes, especially mobile homes. Power outages will last for weeks to possibly months. Most of the area will be uninhabitable for weeks or months. In 2004, Hurricane Charley hit the Florida Gulf Coast near Fort Myers as a Category 4 storm. It was blamed for the deaths of 40 people and left thousands homeless. The total U.S. damage was estimated to be near $15 billion.

Category 5 — Winds greater than 157 mph (250 kph). Complete roof failure on many homes and industrial buildings. Smaller buildings and mobile homes blown over or completely blown away. Major damage to lower floors of all structures located less than 15 feet (4.5 meters) above sea level and within 500 yards (460 meters) of the shoreline. Massive evacuation of residential areas on low ground within 5 to 10 miles (8 to 16 kilometers) inland may be required. The last Category 5 storm to hit the United States was Hurricane Andrew in 1992. Andrew killed 65 and caused $26.5 billion in 1992 dollars (about $50 billion in 2017 dollars), according to the National Weather Service.

Only three Category 5 storms have hit the United States since record keeping began: the 1935 Labor Day hurricane that hit the Florida Keys and killed 600 people; Hurricane Camille, which devastated the Mississippi coast in 1969, killing 256 and leaving $1.4 billion in damage; and Hurricane Andrew, which killed 65 and caused some $26.5 billion in 1992 dollars (about $50 billion in 2017 dollars), according to the National Weather Service.

Superstorm Sandy, which pummeled New York and New Jersey in 2012, didn't have the high winds and had lost tropical status by the time it struck. Though not formally called a major hurricane, it had devastating effects.

hurricane drought?

In the U.S., yes. Until Harvey, no major hurricane had hit the United States since Wilma. That 2005 storm also was the last major hurricane to hit Florida. Scientists say the 12-year landfall drought was likely due to chance. There were still the same number of hurricanes brewing; they just missed the United States or were not major hurricanes.

back-to-back huge hurricanes

Major storms can and do form back-to-back and did so in 2016 with Matthew and Nicole, but having more than one hit the U.S. in a season is unusual. This was the first year two Category 4 storms hit the United States.

hurricane names

The names of tropical cyclones are decided by the World Meteorological Organization and are recycled every six years. If more than 21 named tropical cyclones occur in one basin in a season, any additional storms will be named for Greek letters. The names of storms deemed to have caused extraordinary damage are retired from the list. When referring to two hurricanes: hurricanes Harvey and Irma.

hurricane season

The portion of the year that has a relatively high incidence of hurricanes. In the Atlantic, Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico, this is from June through November. In the eastern Pacific, it is May 15 through Nov. 30. In the central Pacific, it is June 1 through Nov. 30.

hurricane warning An announcement that sustained winds of 74 mph (119 km/hr) or higher are expected somewhere within the specified area in association with a tropical, subtropical or post-tropical cyclone. The warning is issued 36 hours before tropical-storm-force winds are expected to arrive.

hurricane watch An announcement that sustained winds of 74 mph (119 km/hr) or higher are possible within the specified area in association with a tropical, subtropical or post-tropical cyclone. A hurricane watch is issued 48 hours in advance of the expected onset of tropical-storm-force winds.

tropical depression

A tropical cyclone in which the maximum sustained surface wind is 38 mph (33 knots) or less.

tropical storm

A warm-core tropical cyclone in which the maximum sustained surface winds range from 39 to 73 mph (34 to 63 knots) inclusive. Capitalize tropical stormwhen it is part of the name that weather forecasters assign to a storm: Tropical Storm Allison. Do not abbreviate to TS.




cancel, canceled, canceling, cancellation


Lowercase when referring to the physical shoreline: Atlantic coast, Pacific coast, east coast. Capitalize when referring to regions of the United States lying along such shorelines: the Atlantic Coast states, a Gulf Coast city, the West Coast, the East Coast. Do not capitalize when referring to smaller regions: the Virginia coast. Capitalize the Coast when standing alone only if the reference is to the West Coast.

damage, damages

Damage is destruction: The storm is expected to cause billions of dollars' worth of damage.

Damages are awarded by a court as compensation for injury, loss, etc.: The woman received $25,000 in damages.

Federal Emergency Management Agency

FEMA is acceptable on second reference. The FEMA administrator is Brock Long.

forecast (n., v.)

Use forecast, not forecasted, for the past tense.

forecasting hurricanes

Forecasters at the National Hurricane Center rely on dozens of computer simulations and their own expert experience. They use real-time readings of wind, temperature, air pressure, humidity and more. But those real-time readings are sparse and spread out. Figuring out a storm's path and strength is tricky and usually forecasts do not go out longer than five days.


Stories about floods usually tell how high the water is and where it is expected to crest. Such a story should also, for comparison, list flood stage and how high the water is above, or below, flood stage. Wrong: The river is expected to crest at 39 feet. Right: The river is expected to crest at 39 feet, 12 feet above flood stage.


good Samaritan

But uppercase when used in a title: Good Samaritan Hospital.

historic, historical

A historic event is an important occurrence, one that stands out in history. Any occurrence in the past is a historical event.

National Guard

Capitalize when referring to U.S. or state-level forces: the National Guard, the Texas National Guard, Texas' National Guard. On second reference, the guard.

When referring to an individual in a National Guard unit, use National Guardsman: He is a National Guardsman.

Lowercase guardsman when it stands alone.

National Hurricane Center

The National Weather Service's National Hurricane Center in Miami has overall responsibility for tracking and providing information about tropical depressions, tropical storms and hurricanes in the Atlantic Ocean, Gulf of Mexico, Caribbean Sea and eastern Pacific Ocean.

National Weather Service

The director is Louis Uccellini. On second reference, the NWS or the weather service.


It is measured in inches; use numerals in all references except when beginning a sentence. The verb should conform with rain, not inches: Forecasters said 30 inches of rain is expected to fall.

storm surge

An abnormal rise of water above the normal tide, generated by a storm. Basically, walls of water moving inland.

St. Barts, St. Martin

In general, use the English spellings for these Caribbean islands. St. Martin is divided by its northern French side, called Saint-Martin in French, and its southern Dutch side, called Sint Maarten in Dutch. In some uses, if referring specifically to the French half of the island it can be Saint-Martin, and if referring specifically to Dutch side it can be St. Maarten. But explain in copy: The island known as St. Martin in English is divided between French Saint-Martin and Dutch Sint Maarten. For St. Barts, use Saint Barthelemy only if needed in quotes, and explain that it is the French name.

Superstorm Sandy

Superstorm Sandy began as a late-season hurricane in October 2012 but merged with other weather systems and morphed into a massive, extratropical hybrid storm that didn't meet the meteorological definition of a hurricane or tropical storm. It nonetheless retained many characteristics of a hurricane, including a storm surge that swamped much of the New York and New Jersey coasts. It caused at least $50 billion in damage, though some sources cite around $75 billion. Either figure makes it, after 2005's Hurricane Katrina, the second-costliest storm of its type in U.S. history. At least 147 people died directly from storm conditions, with many others linked to hypothermia, carbon monoxide poisoning and falling trees during the cleanup effort, according to the National Hurricane Center. Repairs to homes and infrastructure continue today.

Tropical Storm Allison

Allison never reached hurricane strength, but its remnants devastated the Houston area with flooding in 2001.

2017 Back-to-School Topical Guide

The Associated Press has compiled a style guide of essential words, phrases and definitions related to the return to classes. Terms are from the AP Stylebook, usage in AP stories and Webster's New World College Dictionary, Fifth Edition.


But single-letter grades get apostrophes: an A, two B's and three C's.

back-to-school (adj.)

He bought back-to-school supplies. But she went back to school.

book titles

Capitalize and enclose in quotes the names of books, poems, plays, films and songs. Capitalize without quotes books that are primarily references, such as dictionaries, encyclopedias and almanacs.

bus, buses

The vehicles carrying kids to and from school. Not busses, which are kisses.


Common Core educational standards

Or Common Core learning standards. Standards in English language arts and mathematics for what each student should know and be able to do by the end of each grade level. Standards do not determine curriculum; those decisions are made by local school boards and educators.


Capitalize proper noun elements or numbered courses: American history, English, Algebra 1, world history

dean's list

Lowercase in all uses: He is on the dean's list. She is a dean's list student.

dropout (n.), drop out (v.)

enroll, enrolled, enrolling


Titles of special events, such as school fundraisers, are capitalized and enclosed in quotes.


Acceptable in all references for grade-point average.

grade, grader

first grader, seventh grader, 10th grader; but hyphenate first-grade student, 11th-grade classes.

graduate (v.)

Graduate is correctly used in the active voice: She graduated from high school. It is correct, but unnecessary, to use the passive voice: He was graduated from high school. Do not, however, drop from: John Adams graduated from Harvard. Not: John Adams graduated Harvard.

half day, half-day (adj.)

Friday is a half day of school. The half-day tests were challenging.

high school

No hyphen in high school student, high school teacher, etc.

home schooling (n.) home-schooler (n.) home-school (v.) home-schooled (adj.)


Absence from school without a legitimate excuse is playing hooky.


The years of schooling from kindergarten through 12th grade graduation.

kindergarten, kindergartners

But pre-K, K-12.

lectern, podium, rostrum

A speaker stands behind a lectern, on a podium or rostrum.


Acceptable in all references for Parent Teacher Association

public schools

Use a figure and capitalize when numbered: Public School 3. If a school has a commemorative name, capitalize it: Benjamin Franklin School.

room numbers

Use figures and capitalize room when used with a figure: Room 2, Room 211.


Elementary school, middle school, but preschool is one word.

school-age (adj.)

They have three school-age children.

schoolboy, schoolgirl

One word for each.

school day

Two words for any day that school is in session.

school year

The 2017-18 school year begins soon.


One word.


One word for schoolteacher; others are three words without hyphens: grade school teacher, high school teacher

teen, teenager

three R's

They are: reading, 'riting, 'rithmetic



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