What are Hurricanes?

Hurricanes are some of the most destructive kinds of natural disasters today. They cause destruction to property and loss of life every year. According to the National Hurricane Center, the biggest hurricane in the world known as the Great Galveston Hurricane occurred in the United States in the 1900’s. The deadly hurricane resulted in about 1000 deaths and an estimated damage of about $25 billion in today’s currency. This figure manifests the destructive capability of hurricanes, which is why understanding them and knowing how to get prepared is vital for your family.

So, just what are hurricanes and how are they formed? Hurricanes, also known as cyclones and typhoons in other tropical regions, are gigantic storms roaming the tropical seas of the world. This means they can only be found in tropical areas such as South Atlantic Ocean, Gulf of Mexico, eastern Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea.


Causes of Hurricanes

Warm water, moist warm air, and light upper-level winds are the key ingredients to the formation of hurricanes. Hurricanes begin when masses of warm, moist air from oceans surfaces starts to rise quickly, and collide with masses of cooler air. The collision prompts the warm water vapor to condense, eventually forming storm clouds and dropping back as rain. During the condensation process, latent heat is emitted. The latent heat warms the cool air above, leading it to rise and pave the way for warmer, humid air coming from below the ocean.

As the process goes on, more warm moist air is attracted into the mounting storm, and much more heat is moved from the ocean surface to the atmosphere. This constant heat exchange develops a wind pattern that spins around a fairly calm center that mimics water spinning down a drain.

If conditions remain the same, which means there is enough fuel for the storm to continue developing, the rotating storm will continue to get powerful, eventually becoming a hurricane. When the hurricane continues to strengthen and become strong enough, an opening at the center known as the eye forms.

The eye is a clear circular center of the storm. The strongest winds occur near the eye, which means the winds get strong as you approach the eye. The eye wall is the area surrounding the eye, and it has much stronger winds than the eye. When a stronger hurricane develops, winds can reach speeds of up to 200 miles per hour. If the storms lose energy, it means they have reached cooler waters or hit the shores, and they start to weaken and eventually die off.

As the wind transitions from storms to hurricane, it passes through three main stages based on wind speeds:

  1. Tropical depression: Wind speeds below 38 mph or 61.15 kph
  2. Tropical Storm: Winds speeds ranging from 39 mph to 73 mph or 62.76 kph to 117.48 kph
  3. Hurricane: Winds speed over 74 mph or 119.09 kph

To understand hurricanes better, it would be beneficial to know its parts.

Parts of a Hurricane

The eye

It’s situated in the core of the hurricane. On average, the eye has a diameter of 20 to 40 miles across. Huge storms like typhoons that occur in the Pacific may encompass average eye diameter of 50 miles. The whole storm spins around the eye. The inside of the eye is characterized by calm winds, clear skies, and low air pressure.

The eye wall

The eye wall is the area surrounding the eye. Its average diameter ranges from 5 to 30 miles wide. The eye wall harbors the most powerful and destructive winds. Also, the heaviest rains are found here.

Rain bands

This is a collection of dense clouds forming a spiral that wraps around the eye wall. They are responsible for the pinwheel appearance of the hurricane. These dense groups of storms spin slowly anticlockwise. Their average width ranges from 50 to 300 miles long. On certain occasions, the eye and the bands are concealed by higher level group of clouds making it daunting for weather forecasters to utilize satellite imagery to keep an eye on the storm.

Effects of Hurricanes

Positive effects

  1. Drought relief

The vast amount of rainfall that comes along with hurricanes provides a great deal of relief from drought conditions. The rains can go as far as several hundreds of miles from the epicenter of the storm. A typical example is the 2012 remnants of the Hurricane Isaac, which contributed to about 5 inches of rainfall to the Corn Belt fields in Midwest United Sates.

  1. Heat relief

Hurricanes develop on top of tropical and subtropical waters. If the water temperature increases, the hurricane development also increases. If the cooling effects of annual hurricanes are not experienced, it means the tropical and subtropical regions would continually heat up, resulting in multiplication of intensity and quantity of storms. The sea surface is able to cool if a hurricane forms because of the vertex integration of the oceans layers instigated by the frictional force exerted by hurricane winds on the ocean’s surface. This frictional force causes the violent mixing of layers, driving colder water high up the surface. This blocks warm water necessary for hurricanes require to last.

  1. Archaeological benefit

The strength of hurricanes has benefitted archaeologists by unearthing the remains of downed airplanes, shipwrecks and other historical relics in tidal locations where debris, silt, and sand, are washed away by the storm surge. For example, Hurricane Isaac exposed the fragments of the Rachel in 2012. The Rachel was a Schooner built in the course of the First World War.

Negative Effects

  1. Impact on ecosystem

Plants and animals can be exterminated during hurricanes because of the devastating winds, storm surges, and flooding. Animals that rely on these creatures as a source of food may die if an alternative source is not found. Beaches bear the biggest brunt of hurricanes; they get eroded when storms reach the shorelines. Creatures that thrive on beaches can be washed away by severe hurricanes. Also, sediment erosion and deposition normally impact coral reefs and oyster beds. The introduction of salt water by hurricanes to nearby freshwater streams and lakes leads to enormous fish kills and destruction of lakeside habitat.

  1. Agricultural impact

Hurricanes can mightily affect agriculture. For instance, the products of hurricanes such as heavy rains and strong winds can damage crops and kill livestock. The greater fear for most farmers is contamination of crops by water originating from floods. The heavy rains and flooding result in filling and causing overflow of hog lagoons. This overflowing water can contaminate certain crop species. This phenomenon could also lead to loss of harvest as a result of dramatic effect of flooding of seeds. Agricultural losses due to hurricanes can go up to $40 million dollars depending on the size and intensity of hurricanes.

  1. Effect on humans

Hurricane winds can do a whole lot of destruction. However, waves, storm surges, rain and river floods can also contribute to massive destruction. The amount of damage caused hinges on many factors including the size of the storm, intensity, and its angle approach. Collapsing building can lead to injury and death, but the biggest impacts of hurricane occur after the storm. Destroyed property and infrastructure often take years to restore, and this impacts individuals’ economic status.

Photo by: tpsdave