What is a hurricane?

Environment
Hurricane: a tropical-rotating storm with winds that blow at 74 miles per hour (119 kilometers per hour) or more | Photo: NASA

A hurricane is a tropical-rotating storm with winds that consistently blow at 74 miles per hour (119 kilometers per hour) or more.

The hurricane season begins when the ocean's temperatures are high. Warm, moist air rises from the ocean's surface to create a small rain storm.

As cool rain falls from the storm, heat rises into the air creating an upward current that pulls more moist air into the clouds. As a result, a bigger thunderstorm is formed.

Winds that blow across the ocean's surface get pulled into the updraft, dragging even more warm moist air into the storm's center.

As the storm grows, it becomes affected by the Earth's rotation and starts to spin clockwise in the Southern Hemisphere and counterclockwise in the Northern Hemisphere.

This rotation increases the storm's energy and causes an eye to form - a vertical axis of warm rising air.

Then, winds blowing high above the Earth's surface set the storm on its path, many times towards land.

The hurricane is nature's most massive storm. Hurricanes cause a lot of damage, and most of the damage comes from flooding, high winds, and huge waves.

Hurricanes: when they touch land, they're often highly destructive | Photo: Creative Commons

Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale

Hurricanes are officially classified based on wind speed category:

Category 1: 74-95 miles per hour (119-153 kilometers per hour)

Category 2: 96-110 miles per hour (154-177 kilometers per hour)

Category 3: 111-129 miles per hour (178-208 kilometers per hour)

Category 4: 130-156 miles per hour (209-251 kilometers per hour)

Category 5: 157+ miles per hour (252+ kilometers per hour)

The "Hurricane Season" runs from June 1 to November 30. During this period, and every year, scientists report around 100 hurricanes.

Since 1953, each hurricane gets a unique name. The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) decides names following a six-year list defined in alphabetical order.

However, when a hurricane causes a lot of destruction, its name is retired and replaced with another one beginning with the same letter.

Since the 1950s, only 23 of all the hurricane names that were retired reached Category 5.

They were Janet (1955), Carla and Hattie (1961), Beulah (1967), Camille (1969), Anita (1977), David (1979), Allen (1980), Gilbert (1988), Hugo (1989), Andrew (1992), Mitch (1998), Isabel (2003), Ivan (2004), Katrina, Rita, and Wilma (2005), Dean and Felix (2007), Matthew (2016), Irma and Maria (2017), and Michael (2018).

Hurricanes, cyclones, and typhoons: they are all tropical cyclones | Illustration: NASA

Hurricanes versus Cyclones versus Typhoons

So, what are the differences between a hurricane, a cyclone, and a typhoon?

The only difference between hurricanes, cyclones, and typhoons is the region of the Earth where the storm occurs.

The hurricane is the name given to a storm that takes place in the Atlantic and Northeast Pacific regions.

The cyclone is the designation for the same phenomenon in South Pacific and the Indian Ocean, while the typhoon is the disturbance in the Northwest Pacific.

Hurricanes, cyclones, and typhoons are all tropical cyclones.

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