The largest storms on our planet are called hurricanes. HURRICANES ARE MASSIVE TROPICAL STORM SYSTEMS WITH INTENSE LOW PRESSURE AND WINDS GREATER THAN 120 kmph. They are so big that they can be seen from space!
How Do Hurricanes Form?
ALL HURRICANES DEVELOP OFF OF THE WEST COAST OF AFRICA, NEAR THE EQUATOR. Here the air is really hot and really humid with low pressure, so storms develop. GLOBAL WINDS THEN PUSH THE HURRICANE WEST / NORTHWEST ACROSS THE ATLANTIC OCEAN.
During that crossing, AS LONG AS THE STORM STAYS OVER WARM WATER, IT IS FUELED BY THE HOT HUMID AIR, AND IT GETS STRONGER AND STRONGER.
HOWEVER IF IT MOVES OFF OF WARM WATER THE STORM IS NO LONGER FED HOT, HUMID, AIR AND THE STORM WEAKENS AND FALLS APART.
THIS IS WHY HURRICANES NEVER TRAVEL THAT FAR OVER LAND, OR THAT FAR NORTH
Anatomy of a Hurricane
Since hurricanes are such huge storms they have a well developed structure, with distinct parts that can be identified and labeled.
The eye is the low pressure center of the storm. In the eye warm, humid air is rising straight up, so there is very little wind. In fact, inside the eye the weather is like a clear summer day.
The Eye Wall
Surrounding the eye is a massive wall of thunderstorms. Since they are low pressure storms, the eye wall spins around the eye in a counterclockwise direction.
Spiraling on the outskirts of the eye wall are various bands of intense rain storms called rain bands.
Hurricanes are Dangerous
The intense winds of a hurricane represent a very serious risk. With speeds ranging between 120 to 240 kmph and covering areas as large as 1.2 million km, hurricane winds are capable of ripping the roofs off of buildings, knocking down trees, and throwing massive objects large distances.
Although the winds are visually terrifying, the most destructive part of a hurricane is the storm surge.
THE STORM SURGE IS A MASSIVE BULGE OF WATER UP TO 17 FT HIGH THAT IS PULLED UP BY THE LOW PRESSURE OF THE STORM.
The surge is pulled along following underneath the storm. When the hurricane approaches land, the storm surge spills over sea walls and other barriers causing flash floods causing death and property destruction.
We describe hurricane strength using the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale that matches observable damage to estimated wind speeds.
Like with tornadoes, meteorologists and government officials issue both watches and warnings for hurricanes. A hurricane watch means that there is a chance that the hurricane could hit a specific area. A hurricane warning means that the hurricane will certainly hit in the next few hours.
The best way to stay safe during a hurricane is to not be there when it hits. Listen to the radio or watch TV for instructions on evacuation and take them seriously. As always, it is good policy to be prepared with canned food, water, a first aid kit, batteries, a radio and flashlight.
To avoid the risk of flooding from the storm surge move to higher ground. Avoid the risks from wind and debris by boarding up and away from windows and remaining indoors.