Science behind Hurricanes

Hurricanes are huge heat engines that run on warm water, capable of producing roughly 200
times the entire world's electrical generating capacity with rain and cloud formation alone. Their
power source is the sun, which heats up tropical sea water all spring to have the engines building
and revving themselves by early summer.
Up-and-coming cyclones are categorized by their wind speeds and their degree of organization,
giving forecasters a way to classify the threats they pose. Tropical cyclone formation is generally
divided into the following four steps:

Tropical disturbance: a loosely organized system of tropical or subtropical storming that
maintains itself for at least 24 hours. Even the largest hurricane was once a humble

Tropical depression: a tropical disturbance that has tightened into a cyclone and
developed a closed loop of circulation. Tropical depressions have a maximum sustained
wind speed of 38 mph.

Tropical storm: a tropical depression with more concentrated storming near its center
and with outer rainfall forming distinct bands. Tropical storms have maximum sustained
wind speeds between 39 and 73 mph.

Hurricane/typhoon: a tropical storm that has come of age, with tight, powerful cloud
rotation and maximum sustained wind speeds of 74 mph or higher. Known as
"hurricanes" in the Atlantic and "typhoons" in the Pacific, major tropical cyclones are
further classified by strength, from a Category 1 to a Category 5.

Once enough heat is being pumped from the sea into the sky. Tropical cyclones are typically a summer phenomenon. The water has to be at least 80 degrees Fahrenheit and 150 feet deep. This creates a thunderstorm. often stirring up a cyclone along the way." with cyclones sprouting up virtually year-round. most regions see few typhoons in winter. an outside disturbance is still needed to get everything spinning. The latest date that a tropical storm was ever recorded in the Atlantic is Dec. which are horizontal cloud strips that vacuum up warm water vapor and send it to the sky. cools and falls back down as rain. as do 85 percent of the basin's major hurricanes. and it's this thunderstorm activity that releases stored heat from sea water so it can fuel the growing cyclone. Since the Pacific Ocean is larger and warmer than the Atlantic.The birth of a tropical cyclone begins when warm surface water evaporates. By the time a tropical cyclone evolves into a hurricane. . 30. where it sinks down and can create a deceptively tranquil. Still. but the region's cyclones don't always follow the rules. sometimes arriving early and sometimes flouting their curfew. 30." The eye is separated from the rain bands spiraling around it by the "eye wall. The Atlantic hurricane season officially runs from June 1 through Nov. its typhoon season is usually longer and more intense. rises. Some areas are so active that they have no official "seasons. One of the more common triggers in the Atlantic is something called an "African easterly wave. with the vast majority developing between May and December. since they can't exist without lots of warm." where the storm's winds are strongest. according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration." produced by temperature differences between the Sahara Desert and the Gulf of Guinea. where it cools and condenses into rain. but it also must be at least 300 miles away from the equator to glean the right amount of spin from the Coriolis effect. In fact. These waves travel west along a path of warm water known as "Hurricane Alley". 60 percent of all Atlantic tropical storms begin with such waves from west Africa. most of the storm has organized into rain bands. But some cool air is sent inward to the storm's point of lowest atmospheric pressure. the building block of hurricanes. cloudfree zone known as the "eye. sun-baked sea water. which has happened twice: Hurricane Alice in 1954 and Hurricane Zeta in 2005.

cyclone formation shifts into high gear by late summer. East and Gulf coasts face a high risk because they're an ideal distance away from the equator. a wide range of other issues like wind currents. a problem since tropical storms feed on warm water. hitting its peak around August or September.S. history have occurred within two weeks of that date. Throw in the annual blast of easterly waves from Africa.In both the Atlantic and Pacific basins. and many of the worst storms in U. 10. The other fills up much of the North Atlantic.S. and is responsible for almost all hurricanes that hit the United States. But geography alone doesn't make a region susceptible. six of which are in the Pacific or Indian oceans and only two of which directly affect the United States. The Atlantic hurricane season's average peak is Sept. soil aside from rare clashes with Hawaii. presents little risk to U.S. and much of the United States' eastern half finds itself trapped in the middle of a busy hurricane highway for six months every year. The U. and many of their large port cities are sitting ducks for big storm surges. . One. Seven ocean basins around the world host tropical cyclones. off the coast of western Mexico. travel westward and like to curl away from the equator. water depth and coastal geology also play a role. All seven basins have at least one big risk factor in common: lots of warm sea water to their northwest or southwest.