Every year between June 1 and November 30 (commonly called hurricane season),h u rr ic a n es threaten
the eastern and gulf coasts of the United States, Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean. In other
parts of the world, the same types of storms are calledty p h oo n s orcy cl o n es. These huge storms wreak
havoc when they make landfall. They can kill thousands of people and cause billions of dollars of
property damage when they hit heavily populated areas.
According to the National Hurricane Center, "hurricane" is a name for a tropical cyclone that occurs in the Atlantic Ocean. "Tropical cyclone" is the generic term used for low-pressure systems that develop in the tropics.
"Tropical cyclones with maximum sustained surface winds of less than 17 meters per
second (39 mph / 62.7 kph / 34 knots) are called tropical depressions. Once the tropical
cyclone reaches winds of at least 17 meters per second (m/s), it is typically called a
They arecy cl o n ic, meaning that their winds swirl around a
centraley e. Wind direction is counterclockwise (west to east) in
the Northern Hemisphere and clockwise (east to west) in the
Hurricanes form in tropical regions where there is warm water (at least 80 degrees Fahrenheit / 27
degrees Celsius), moist air and converging equatorial winds. Most Atlantic hurricanes begin off the west
coast of Africa, starting as thunderstorms that move out over the warm, tropical ocean waters. A
thunderstorm reaches hurricane status in three stages:
According to the National
Hurricane Center, the word
"hurricane" comes from the
name "Hurican," the
Caribbean god of evil.
It can take anywhere from hours to several days for a thunderstorm to develop into a hurricane. Although
the whole process of hurricane formation is not entirely understood, three events must happen for
hurricanes to form:
replaced by more warm, humid air from the ocean below. This cycle continues, drawing more warm, moist air into the developing storm and continuously moving heat from the surface to the atmosphere. This exchange of heat from the surface creates a pattern of wind that circulates around a center. This circulation is similar to that of water going down a drain.
"Converging winds" are winds moving in different directions that run into each other. Converging winds
at the surface collide and push warm, moist air upward. This rising air reinforces the air that is already
rising from the surface, so the circulation and wind speeds of the storm increase. In the meantime, strong
winds blowing at uniform speeds at higher altitudes (up to 30,000 ft / 9,000 m) help to remove the rising
hot air from the storm's center, maintaining a continual movement of warm air from the surface and
keeping the storm organized. If the high-altitude winds do not blow at the same speed at all levels -- if
High-pressure air in the upper atmosphere (above 30,000 ft / 9,000 m) over the storm's center also removes heat from the rising air, further driving the air cycle and the hurricane's growth. As high- pressure air is sucked into the low-pressure center of the storm, wind speeds increase.
This photo is a composite of three days' views (August 23, 24 and 25,
1992) of Hurricane Andrew as it slowly moved across south Florida
from east to west.
Hurricanes vary widely in physical size. Some storms are very compact and have only a few trailing
bands of wind and rain behind them. Other storms are looser, so the bands of wind and rain spread out
over hundreds or thousands of miles. Hurricane Floyd, which hit the eastern United States in September
1999, was felt from the Caribbean islands to New England.
According to The Weather Channel Online, there are four weather alerts for tropical storms and
hurricanes. Depending on where you are located in proximity to the storm, you may find yourself under
one of these alerts:
Hurricane Floyd was a Category 3 storm that brought intense rains and record flooding
to the eastern United States and Canada. Nearly 90 percent of the fatalities associated
with this storm were drownings due to inland flooding.
Hurricane Bertha (July 1996) was also a Category 3 storm, but
Bertha's power and impact were contained in a much smaller area
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