Hurricane Watch and Warning Boundaries


When a hurricane watch or hurricane warning is issued, the end-points are noted using fixed points of reference along coastal areas. These “breakpoints” are set and published by the National Hurricane Center in advance of each season, and may change slightly from year to year.

This color coded map shows official watch/warning breakpoints for Atlantic storms in 2013, by state.

This color coded map shows official watch/warning breakpoints for Atlantic storms in 2013, by state.

These breakpoints are usually intuitive (for example, the Florida/Alabama border), but some need translating. People aren’t always familiar with beach names, especially if they do not live close to that boundary.

For example, the area between Ocean Reef, FL and Golden Beach, FL is pretty much coastal Miami-Dade county, and includes the Miami metropolitan area.

The embedded graphic shows all of the fixed watch/warning breakpoints for the 2013 season, color coded by state for easier visual reference. The attached is just a flat graphic, but soon I will publish an interactive version which includes the ability to hover over the station for additional detail (breakpoint name, location name and metro area affected).

A Tropical Storm or Hurricane Watch is issued when storm or hurricane conditions are expected with 48 hours. The watch usually begins the evacuation process, people are urged to prepare their property and businesses for possible disruption from a storm etc.

A Tropical Storm or Hurricane Warning is issued when storm or hurricane conditions are expected within the warned area in 24-36 hours. Once a warning is issued, time becomes a critical component. Efforts to protect property and homes must be rushed to completion. Emergency services stop responding to calls when tropical storm conditions begin, which can be several hours prior to hurricane conditions arriving on the coast.

Hurricane Analytics believes that visualizing information like this is critical to the decision making process. People use graphics as “working memory” and the visualization of data makes comprehending and interpreting data easier and more intuitive, especially during emergency situations when every minute counts.

People and emergency managers don’t have time to read and remember the details of every text forecast/advisory, especially when watches and or warnings are issued. By visualizing this data here, the intent is to give users of this site a reference before storms threaten, and to supplement official information sources during storm events.

Note: GIS data courtesy of the National Hurricane Center and can be found here.


About Michael Watkins

Mike Watkins is the founder of Hurricane Analytics, a private organization specializing in data visualization and predictive analytics, with a special focus on tropical meteorology. They analyze complex meteorological data and communicate that information in easy-to-understand terms, to help clients prepare and anticipate the disruptive impact of Atlantic hurricanes.