Hurricanes are the strongest of the windy and circulating storms, and are often called cyclones. They are prominent in the Atlantic and eastern Pacific oceans and in the western Pacific, they are referred to as typhoons. Most Atlantic hurricanes are formed in the southern Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of Africa, in the period of June to November each year. During this time, winds off the west coast of Africa converge, circulating counterclockwise. These winds often maintain a low speed and travel across the Atlantic Ocean as tropical waves, causing little more than rainfall on the land masses on which they strike.
Other times, when the water temperatures are tepid enough and atmospheric conditions are perfect, the wind speeds increase and start to form around a center or the eye. Hot and moist air from the ocean is then pulled up into the eye of the storm, which is now described as a tropical storm. As the air rises it cools and moisture condenses and is released as heavy rain into the torrential winds that circulate around the eye. The resulting energy is pumped into the rotating cloud mass, which makes it rise and spin even faster. The storm has become a hurricane by the time the winds reach speeds of 119 kph, equal to 74 miles per hour.
As the spinning storm moves across the ocean wind speeds increase. Hurricanes are typically classified by the strength of their winds into five categories on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Intensity Scale. The weakest hurricanes have wind speeds that are between 74-95 miles per hour and are referred to as Category 1 storms. Category 1 storms cause minimal damage primarily to trees and plants. In 1992, Hurricane Andrew was a Category IV storm with sustained wind speeds of 140 miles per hour. Category V storms, such as Hurricane Camille, are the strongest storms and are responsible for catastrophic destruction. Hurricane Camille, with reported winds of more than 200 miles per hour, was the most powerful hurricane ever recorded in the northern gulf coast.
The difference in wind speed is one easy way to classify storms, but hurricanes also have other strange characteristics. Some storms progress quickly and produce little rainfall, while others are slow and generate torrential rainfall with downfalls that often exceed 15 inches. One characteristic that all storms have is the location of the most powerful and dangerous winds. The forward right quadrant of a hurricane is its strongest and most dangerous section. This is the most dangerous section because the counterclockwise motion of the storm, as well as its forward movement, fuels it.
As the storm progresses along the ocean’s surface, it becomes a complex and tight mass of rain and wind. The eye of the storm becomes perfectly clear on satellite pictures and larger hurricanes can have an eye as large as 35 miles in length. The eye of the storm is the area around which the winds circle and is actually a calm area in the centroid of the hurricane. Many people have been deceived into thinking the storm had ended when the eye passed over and was surprised when the destructive winds began again.
Hurricanes can contain and give off enough energy to supply electricity to the United States for a year. Hurricanes also carry the ocean with them, which can bring storm surges as high as 25 feet above sea level. Often the related storm surge and associated floods are responsible for much of the damage caused in coastal areas. Storms follow unpredictable paths to landfall. There is no easy pattern in the journey from where they originated in Africa. They usually move northwesterly to the Gulf of Mexico and eastern coasts of North and Central America.
Power of Hurricane Winds and How to Take Cover from It
As you probably know, many of the fatalities that are associated with hurricanes have to do with the drowning deaths of those who are caught up in the storm surge or its aftermath. Yet did you know about the freaky power of hurricane winds? These high winds may reach up to 160 miles per hour in the extreme, and their ability to do damage to people, livestock and property is legendary. Buildings and mobile homes are destroyed, roofs are ripped off houses and sent flying through the air. Sticks, fence pickets, and pieces of plywood are turned into deadly missiles that fly through the air at such crazy speeds that they are sometimes driven through a tree! Many photos attest to the awesome power of these high winds.
In addition to the foregoing, the winds will uproot trees that will in turn also cause great damage to above-ground power lines and other utility lines located on poles. Windows are blown in, and even cars are picked up and moved around. Obviously, this is a highly dangerous time for people, and here are some tips on how to take cover from these winds.
Be aware of the anticipated time a hurricane is supposed to make contact with land. Be prepared to evacuate.
If you live in a mobile home or manufactured home, leave well ahead of the storm. Sadly, these buildings are not built in such a fashion as to provide any shelter from a hurricane and are usually the first to fall victims to the winds. In addition to the foregoing, if you live in a high rise, you will also want to evacuate your home in favor of a shelter or other sound structure a little closer to the ground.
If you do live in a home that has reasonable odds of withstanding the winds, be sure to put plywood panels or shutters in front of your windows. This will not only protect your windows but will also help you not to have small shards of glass all over your carpet when you return to your home.
Add to the safety of others by bringing inside your home anything and everything that might be picked up by the winds and then turned into a missile. This could include your lawn furniture, the barbecue, your child’s bicycle, and also the ornamental bird feeders or lawn signs you may have.
If you live in a home that is considered safe to remain in, designate one room to be your safe room. It should have no windows or doors that lead to the outside, simply for the fact that they add vulnerability to your room. If you do not have such a room, a closet will do fine in a pinch.
Get ready to turn off the gas, water, and electricity to your home as soon as you receive a notification to do so.
Have your survival kit packed and put it into your safe room. When it is time to go into your safe room, be sure to close the door securely behind you and turn on your battery-powered radio. Remain in the room no matter what you hear outside, and stay there until you are told it is safe to come back outside.
Of course, there are also initial precautions you can take well ahead of hurricane season to ensure that you and your home will have the greatest odds of survival. For example, you can cut down dead trees or branches on the trees surrounding your property well in advance of the formation of any storms to ensure that your trees will be healthier and hopefully able to withstand the winds.
Mother Nature’s Fury – Hurricanes Pack Quite a Punch
Hurricanes are considered to be the most devastating events to ever occur. They are born over water and driven by solar energy stored in the ocean. Hurricanes, also called tropical cyclones, can travel for weeks across the ocean, blasting islands and coastlines with fierce winds, swollen seas, and torrential rains. Hurricanes can also remake land by tearing up barrier islands and dunes while depositing sand on other beaches. However, as soon as a hurricane reaches land, it begins to lose its power. Hurricanes can also remake history. The Galveston, Texas hurricane of 1900, killed over 9,000 people and practically erased the city, helping to convert the inland city of Houston into a petrochemical giant.
Weather satellites are now able to track hurricanes to their sources. For example, Atlantic hurricanes originate off the coast of West Africa, where ‘tropical disturbances’ form in low-pressure zones. A disturbance may intensify into a tropical depression surrounded by a high-pressure zone that helps to contain the storm. This storm is centered on a column of rising air. Winds are moderate between 21 to 35 miles per hour. Once the winds exceed 35 miles per hour, the systems, called a tropical storm, get an alphabetical name. The storm has the circular structure of a hurricane, although it may not become one. Powered by solar heat that was stored in the ocean and then transferred into the warm and moist air, the tropical storm becomes a hurricane once winds exceed 74 miles per hour.
Hurricanes feed on themselves to gain strength. In their energy flow, hurricanes resemble large thunderstorms. Unlike thunderstorms that can start over land or water, hurricanes only start over water. Hurricanes also last much longer, carry greater energy, and cause much greater destruction. Tropical cyclones are powered by heat engines, which are ‘machines’ that use heat to do their work. The hurricane sucks in the warm and humid air from the lower atmosphere. The air then rises and condenses, releasing water vapor and the amazing amount of heat energy that the moisture absorbed as it evaporated from the ocean. Finally, the storm exhausts the expanded air into the upper atmosphere. The released heat drives hurricane winds and powers the upward convection in the storm. The rising air creates a low-pressure area near the ocean that draws in more energy-laden air, which feeds the continuing storm.
Hurricane winds whirl around the bizarrely calm ‘eye,’ which is a circular region with little wind, no rain, and a blue sky. A circular ‘eyewall’ of thunderstorm type clouds and the fiercest of winds surround the placid eye. When Hurricane Camille tore up the U.S. Gulf Coast in 1968, winds in the eyewall reached over 200 miles per hour. High winds combined with extremely low atmospheric pressure near the eye, cause a catastrophic rise in sea level called a storm surge. This destructive mound of water is topped with wind-whipped waves, can hoist the surface 20 feet above the average sea level which can cause biblical-scale flooding along coastlines.
Although storm surges are the most dangerous element of these storms, water causes another grand problem. All of that condensing moisture eventually falls as torrential rain. Although hurricane winds slow as they move inland, the rains can still be drenching. Hurricanes will come and they will go, but the overall trend is periodic lulls followed by a series of treacherous years. Hurricanes may not be getting more intense, but the damage is increasing due to development and torrid population growth in the prime hurricane country, which in the United States includes the Carolinas, Florida, and the Gulf Coast.