A hurricane is a type of tropical cyclone, a low pressure system that generally forms in the tropics. A typical cyclone is accompanied by thunderstorms, and, in the Northern Hemisphere, has a counterclockwise circulation of winds near the earth’s surface.
All Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico coastal areas are subject to hurricanes or tropical storms. The Atlantic hurricane season lasts from June to November, with the peak of the season occurring from mid-August to late October.
Hurricanes can cause catastrophic damage to coastlines and several hundred miles inland. Winds can exceed 155 miles per hour. Hurricanes and tropical storms can also spawn tornadoes and microbursts, create storm surges along the coast, and cause extensive damage from heavy rainfall.
How do hurricanes form?
Hurricanes are products of a tropical ocean and a warm, moist atmosphere. They are powered by heat from the sea, and steered by wind and the earth’s rotation.
There are three conditions required for a disturbance to form and strengthen into a hurricane. First, the disturbance must gather heat and energy through contact with warm ocean waters. Next, added moisture evaporated from the sea surface powers the seedling tropical storm like a giant heat engine.
Finally, the seedling storm forms a wind pattern near the ocean surface that spirals air inward. Bands of thunderstorms form, allowing the air to warm further and rise higher into the atmosphere. If the winds at these higher levels are relatively light, this structure can remain intact and continue to strengthen.