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Hurricanes & Tropical Storms

A tropical storm is an organized storm that develops over warm ocean waters. When a tropical storm gets strong enough (winds over 74 mph), the storm is classified as a hurricane. A hurricane is a large, swirling storm consisting of the Eye, which is usually partly cloudy or sometimes even clear with relatively calm winds. Then there's the eye-wall where all of the strongest winds and storms occur. Then there are rain bands and outer rain bands which can stretch for hundreds of miles from the eye center. These storms and rain bands generally get progressively weaker as they get farther from the eye.

Although residing usually over water, hurricanes sometimes can strike land. As a hurricane travels, it is constantly sucking up the air around it as fuel, which includes the warm moist tropical air it forms in. This rushing air into the storm 'piles up' ocean water beneath the storm, effectively dragging this heap of ocean water around as the hurricane travels. If a hurricane strikes land, this pile of extra ocean water then comes ashore -- known as a storm surge. The storm surge along with extremely heavy rains cause the flooding associated with a hurricane landfall, which accounts for most fatalities from a hurricane.

How Tropical Storms & Hurricanes Develop

A tropical storm begins its life over warm, moist tropical waters. Conditions are most favorable from June 1 to November 30, which is the typical 'Hurricane Season' in the North Atlantic Ocean. It starts May 15th in the Eastern North Pacific. This is when ocean waters are the warmest and atmosphere is most moist, which are perfect hurricane forming conditions.

The Ingredients

  • Ocean water temperatures over 80 degrees farenheit
  • Weak vertical wind shear
  • Unstable atmosphere where temps decrease with height
  • Moist mid levels of the atmosphere
  • Typically at least 200 miles from the equator to spin, due to the Coriolis Effect.

Once you get a few storms to develop in an area under these conditions it becomes a 'tropical disturbance'. Further development of the storm takes it to 'tropical depression' where rotating storms have winds of 38 mph or less. The next stage is 'Tropical Storm' when these winds reach 39 mph, and then eventually to Hurricane if the storm continues to organize and strengthen to 74 mph.

Once a storm matures, it can spin into a spiral of storms that spin around an eye. This 'eye' of the hurricane is often with few clouds and light or even calm winds. Sometimes the eye can even be clear enough to see stars. The eye is surrounded by the strongest storms of the hurricane in what is known as the 'eye wall'. The eye wall is where the most violent weather exists with a hurricane. The heaviest rain rates and strongest winds occur here.

Think of the eye as an invisible column of air in a tube with the clouds of the hurricane circulating around this tube. The low pressure of the hurricane is 'sucking' in air at the surface, and rising just outside of this tube in the eye wall. This rising air helps to form and organize all of the strongest storms in the eye wall by forcing air upward. This pushes all this warm & moist surface air aloft. At an elevation of about 8 miles, the air temperature just outside of this eye or 'tube' can be as much as 18 degrees warmer than the air around it. This warm air then sinks down into the 'tube' into the eye. This causes the eye to clear out due to this sinking air or 'subsidence'. The eye is where the lowest pressure of a hurricane exists.

Air rotates in a circular fashion into the storm, in a closed circulation fashion. The rotation of this air is counter-clockwise in the northern hemisphere and clockwise in the southern hemisphere.

How Storms are Classified

There are 5 categories for hurricane classification, known as the Saffir-Simpson scale. The scale is named after the men who defined the scale; Herb Saffir, a wind engineer, and Bob Simpson a meteorologist. The scale was designed to describe the damage done to buildings by hurricane force winds. It's important to note that the scale does not reflect the effects of rain, flooding or storm surge. The scale ranges from 1 to 5; with 5 being the strongest.

A category 1 hurricane is classified when winds exceed 74 mph. Category 2 is with winds over 96 mph. A storm is considered a 'Major' hurricane when it reaches Category 3 or higher classification. A Cat 3 has winds over 111 mph, Cat 4 over 130 mph, and Cat 5 over 157 mph.

Tropical Storm & Hurricane Names

In the early 1900s, an Australian weather forecaster named C. Wragge was the first man to give a hurricane a name. Hurricanes & Tropical Storms are the only natural disasters that are given their own names, at least officially. The Weather Channel in recent years has started unofficially naming storms themselves.

During the Tropical Disturbance -> Tropical Depression -> Tropical Storm -> Hurricane transition, the storm is only given a name once it becomes a Tropical Storm. That name continues with the system during its lifecycle to a hurricane (if it becomes a hurricane), and even when it weakens back down to a tropical storm. Naming the storm is easier to identify a system than to reference it by latitude/longitude coordinates. I'd rather call it 'Larry' than "20.3564, -40.6463".

There are six lists of storm names that are used in alphabetical order. The lists are reused every 6 years and is maintained and defined by an international committee of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). If a storm produces enough damage, a name can be retired and replaced with another name, never to be used again.

North Atlantic Names

2021 2022 2023 2024 2025
Ana Alex Arlene Alberto Andrea
Bill Bonnie Bret Beryl Barry
Claudette Colin Cindy Chris Chantal
Danny Danielle Don Debby Dorian
Elsa Earl Emily Ernesto Erin
Fred Fiona Franklin Francine Fernand
Grace Gaston Gert Gordon Gabrielle
Henri Hermine Harold Helene Humberto
Ida Ian Idalia Isaac Imelda
Julian Julia Jose Joyce Jerry
Kate Karl Katia Kirk Karen
Larry Lisa Lee Leslie Lorenzo
Mindy Martin Margot Milton Melissa
Nicholas Nicole Nigel Nadine Nestor
Odette Owen Ophelia Oscar Olga
Peter Paula Philippe Patty Pablo
Rose Richard Rina Rafael Rebekah
Sam Shary Sean Sara Sebastien
Teresa Tobias Tammy Tony Tanya
Victor Virginie Vince Valerie Van
Wanda Walter Whitney William Wendy
Eastern North Pacific Names

2021 2022 2023 2024 2025
Andres Agatha Adrian Aletta Alvin
Blanca Blas Beatriz Bud Barbara
Carlos Celia Calvin Carlotta Cosme
Dolores Darby Dora Daniel Dalila
Enrique Estelle Eugene Emilia Erick
Felicia Frank Fernanda Fabio Flossie
Guillermo Georgette Greg Gilma Gil
Hilda Howard Hilary Hector Henriette
Ignacio Ivette Irwin Ileana Ivo
Jimena Javier Jova John Juliette
Kevin Kay Kenneth Kristy Kiko
Linda Lester Lidia Lane Lorena
Marty Madeline Max Miriam Mario
Nora Newton Norma Norman Narda
Olaf Orlene Otis Olivia Octave
Pamela Paine Pilar Paul Priscilla
Rick Roslyn Ramon Rosa Raymond
Sandra Seymour Selma Sergio Sonia
Terry Tina Todd Tara Tico
Vivian Virgil Veronica Vicente Velma
Waldo Winifred Wiley Willa Wallis
Xina Xavier Xina Xavier Xina
York Yolanda York Yolanda York
Zelda Zeke Zelda Zeke Zelda

Current Tropical Activity

Here is the current tropical storm activity, provided by F5Weather

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) & Facts

  • A typical hurricane can easily drop 6 to 12 inches of rain, or more, over an area.
  • The most violent part of a hurricane is in the eyewall. Here is where the strongest winds and heaviest rains occur.
  • A large hurricane can release the equivalent energy of 10 atom bombs every second.
  • Hurricanes and tropical storms can produce many tornadoes, although they are typically brief and weaker than tornadoes from a supercell.
  • Most deaths from hurricanes come from the storm surge; a wall of rising sea water that innundates coastal areas.
  • Hurricanes, as they are called in the North Atlantic Ocean, Central & Eastern North Pacific, are typically called Typhoons in the Western Pacific and Tropical Cyclones in the Indian Ocean.
  • The planet Jupiter has had an ongoing hurricane for over 300 years. That hurricane is larger than all of Earth.
  • Most hurricane eyes are 20-40 miles in diameter.
  • A normal Atlantic hurricane season has 12 storms; 6 of those becoming hurricanes, 2 being 'major' category 3+ hurricanes.
  • The most active season was in 2005 with 28 named storms, 15 of which were hurricanes. They actually ran out of storm names, and the last 6 storms had to be named Alpha, Beta, etc.
  • 1983 was the slowest seson with only 4 named storms.
  • Major hurricanes can have winds over 180 mph with gusts over 200 mph.
  • The Great Galveston Hurricane of 1900 was the deadliest hurricane in US history killing somewhere between 8,000 and 12,000 people.
  • The strongest North Atlantic hurricane by pressure was Hurricane Wilma in 2005, which had pressure down to 882mb.
  • The strongest North Atlantic hurricane by wind speed was Hurricane Allen in 1980, which had peak sustained wind speeds of 190 mph.
  • Since 1924, there have only been 5 storms hitting at Category 5 strength at landfall in the US: 1928 San Filipe II, 1935 Labor Day Hurricane, 1969 Camille, 1992 Andrew & 2018 Michael
  • The largest hurricane in size was Typhoon Tip; a Category 5 Super Typhoon in 1979. It had a diameter of 2,220km or 1,379 miles and reached winds of 190 mph.
  • Super Typhoon Tip was also the World's strongest hurricane by pressure; dipping down to 870mb in 1979.
  • The strongest hurricane in the World by wind speed was Patricia in the Eastern Pacific in 2015. Patricia peaked at sustained winds of 215 mph.

Resources & Further Reading

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