A fairly new term being used in the tropical meteorology community has left some confused as to what it actually means. The term “potential tropical cyclone” first started being issued by the National Hurricane Center (NHC) in 2017.

A potential tropical cyclone is an area of tropical low pressure that is at risk of developing into an organized storm system such as a tropical depression, tropical storm and, in some cases, a hurricane.

Potential tropical cyclones are treated the same as tropical depressions in that they are both used to define an undeveloped tropical system, but what makes potential tropical cyclones different is that they are even less organized. It is the earliest and most basic form of a tropical system.

According to the National Weather Service, the NHC “has the option to issue advisories, watches, and warnings for disturbances that are not yet a tropical cyclone, but which pose the threat of bringing tropical storm or hurricane conditions to land areas within 48 hours.”

In August 2021, Potential Tropical Cyclone Seven formed east of the Caribbean Sea and rapidly intensified as it made its way west. It would eventually become Tropical Storm Grace and later Hurricane Grace, strengthening to a category 3 before making landfall on the eastern coast of Mexico.

Tropical Storm Grace Satellite Image
Tropical Storm Grace Satellite Image

The recent addition of “potential tropical cyclone” to the list of tropical classifications is extremely beneficial as it enables warnings and advisories to be used to help inform more individuals of the impending danger presented by the storm.

If a potential tropical cyclone strengthens, it moves through several different classifications as it expands and organizes. Those classifications are defined chronologically as a tropical depression, tropical storm and hurricane. The Saffir-Simpson Scale is used to classify hurricanes specifically based on sustained windspeed. The categories of strength range from 1 to 5, with 5 being the strongest.

Saffir-Simpson Scale
Saffir-Simpson Scale

Potential Tropical Cyclone Two is currently making its way through the southern Caribbean Sea, just off the northern coast of South America. It is moving quickly, but is not strengthening very fast. It is currently forecasted to make landfall in Central America as a tropical storm on Friday evening.