Guys, guess what? Hurricane season just ended! Hurricane season lasts from the beginning of June to the end of November. For those of you who are unaware, hurricanes are the same thing as typhoons and cyclones. The scientific word for a hurricane is a tropical cyclone, and storms are only specifically categorized as hurricanes when they occur in the Atlantic or Pacific Oceans. According to NASA, “Hurricanes are the most violent storms on Earth.” Hurricanes are formed near the equator when moist air is warmed by the ocean and rises, causing a low pressure (think vacuum) area below it. The low pressure area sucks in air from the surrounding areas. This new air is also warmed and rises. Eventually the air will rise high enough that the water it carries condenses into clouds. This continual process forms the vortex of a spinning cloud that can be identified from space, called a hurricane.

Interestingly, NASA notes, “Storms that form north of the equator spin counterclockwise. Storms south of the equator spin clockwise. This difference is because of Earth’s rotation on its axis,” also known as the Coriolis Effect. According to National Geographic, “Hurricanes can stretch over 500 miles in diameter and…reach a height of 9 miles.”  Hurricanes are categorized by their wind speed.

It is very difficult to gain an understanding of the power of these hurricanes just by looking at numbers. Here are some recent hurricanes, their category, and the damage they caused:

  • Category 1: Danger of flying debris to people, large tree branches snapped off, damage to roofs, extensive damage to power lines (e.g. Hurricane Dolly in 2008)
  • Category 2: Older mobile homes destroyed, trees uprooted, lots of flying debris including glass shards, power and water outages for days (e.g. Hurricane Frances in 2004)
  • Category 3: Extensive damage to all homes regardless of age, roof and wall collapses possible, trees uprooted, any unreinforced buildings have the possibility of collapsing, water and power may be out for days to weeks (e.g. Hurricane Ivan in 2004)
  • Category 4: Extensive damage to all homes, large debris flying in the air, structural damage to top floors of apartment building, windows can be blown out of high-rise buildings, resulting in glass falling from several stories up, the amount of uprooted trees can isolate areas, which delays aid (e.g. Hurricane Charley in 2004)
  • Category 5: People at a high risk of being crushed by flying debris even if they are indoors, even reinforced buildings have a high likelihood of failing and collapsing, most of the area will be uninhabitable for weeks to months (e.g. Hurricane Andrew in 1992)

Quick Fact: Hurricane Camille had the highest recorded winds of any hurricane, hitting land at a speed of 190 miles per hour!

Interestingly, despite the awesome damage caused by these powerful winds, most of the damage by hurricanes is caused by the storm surge, a fast rising of the sea resulting in extensive flooding. The fact that the top five deadliest hurricanes in the United States were not Category 5 hurricanes underscores the point that the storm surge that accompanies a hurricane is extremely dangerous.

The Great Galveston Hurricane had a storm surge of 8-15 ft, the Okeechobee Hurricane caused a lake surge on Lake Okeechobee of 6-9 ft, and the infamous Katrina created a storm surge of 25-28 ft along the Mississippi coast. As we can see, hurricanes are amazingly powerful, fascinating storms that should not be trifled with.