We cover a lot of ground in this article (pun intended), with a focus on the stages of hurricanes. But before we get to the heart of this articles, let’s take a few lessons from history on the awesome force of hurricanes. And unlike how most people use the word “awesome,” when it comes to hurricanes the word is being used in the truest sense of the word — “causing feelings of great admiration, respect, or fear:”
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A Brief History : The Power of Hurricanes
Let me tell you a little story from the history of feudal Japan. Back in the 13th century, a powerful Mongol fleet under the leadership of Kublai Khan attempted to invade Japan. This fleet had around 500 to 900 ships in total, carrying close to 40,000 men. Upon landing in Hakata Bay, the invaders were confronted by Samurai clans, fighting to defend their homeland. The Mongols were forced to withdraw. However, in the middle of retreat, their fleet was struck by a powerful typhoon the likes of which they had never seen. It is estimated that nearly 13,000 men drowned and over a third of the ships sank. This took place in 1274.
Just 7 years later in 1281, the Mongols launched a second invasion force. This time, the Japanese had built a 2-meter wall to protect themselves from invasions. The Mongols turned up with what historians consider one of the largest naval invasion attempts in history- over 140,000 men in 4400 ships. The only naval invasion in recent history that surpasses this feat is the D- day invasion of 1944 in which Allied forces stormed the beaches of Normandy. So, the Japanese must’ve had a tough time defending themselves from such a massive force of naval invaders back in the 13th century, right?
The Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale (skip to section)
Actually, those defensive walls turned out to be extremely useful since the Mongols just couldn’t find a suitable place to land. The wandered around the seas for months, eating through their food supplies as they kept searching for a viable entry point. And then, disaster struck a second time- while exhausted and low on supplies, the Mongols were hit with another massive typhoon. Over 70,000 men were captured, and the Mongols gave up on attacking Japan for good.
The Japanese believed that these typhoons were “Kamikaze” or divine winds, sent by the emperor himself to thwart invading forces. Would the Japanese have stood a chance without this supposed divine intervention? After all, they were heavily outnumbered with just 40,000 Samurai and other fighters versus over 140,000 Mongols. The name Kamikaze would later be used as nationalist propaganda in the Second World War, portraying Japanese pilots as a “divine wind” that would sweep the enemy ships from the seas.
These tropical storms were thought to be acts of God back in the day, and everyone has different names for it. They are called Typhoons in the Northwest Pacific, Hurricanes in the North Atlantic and Northeast Pacific, Cyclones in the South Pacific and Indian Ocean. The scientific term or classification for these beautiful yet extremely destructive forces of nature is “tropical cyclone” or simply “tropical storm”.
In this article, I shall break down the various stages of hurricanes and explain how they form. I will also talk about the various defensive measures you can take beforehand to lessen the impact of a hurricane, after all we’re in the middle of hurricane season right now. You will also learn what differentiates a Category 1 hurricane from a Category 5 hurricane, including how/ why we name these storms. A hurricane is essentially a self-sustaining engine of nature which uses warm moist air as fuel; its development can be divided into 4 main stages-
- Tropical Disturbance
- Tropical Depression
- Tropical Storm
Each one of these 4 stages is a series of events that must line up in perfect order for a hurricane to form. It all ends when the hurricane makes landfall, and its supply of warm moist air (from the ocean) gets cut off. Hurricanes always start on the ocean, without exception. And coastal areas bear the brunt of the impact.
Note : If you live in an area prone to hurricanes you really need to be prepared and invest in a proper hurricane generator to keep the power flowing after the aftermath. Read our indepth review on choosing a hurricane generator. Below you’ll find some recommended models.
Stages of Hurricanes —
The Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale
Normally, when you see the weather channel talk about an incoming hurricane or tropical storm, they mention its category. And there are various scales or systems to measure the category of a tropical storm. The scale used in North and Central America is the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale, it tells us about the potential impact or destructive force of a hurricane, based primarily on its sustained wind speeds.
A hurricane’s category on this scale ranges between 1 and 5, with 1 being the weakest and 5 being the strongest. Remember that the category rating doesn’t tell us everything about the destructive force of a hurricane, and a hurricane does damage in more ways than wind force alone. There’s auxiliary effects with a hurricane like storm surges, flooding, power outages, damage to road/ infrastructure, rain, etc. which cause lots of disruption to life and property.
On top of that, you don’t get an idea of how large a hurricane really is (a 300km wide category 2 hurricane is very different from a 400km wide category 2 hurricane) from this scale. And food/ water availability in a region hit by the hurricane will also determine how much of a negative impact it has on the locality. The coastal geography and angle of impact is yet another deciding factor in determining a hurricane’s destructive force. With that said, let’s take a look at the scale and what each category means-
|Category||Wind Speeds||Destructive Force||What To Expect|
|1||74 – 95 mph||Very dangerous winds will produce some damage||Houses with wooden frames will sustain damage to the roof, shingles, vinyl siding, gutters, etc. Large tree branches will snap, and some shallow rooted trees might even be toppled. There will also be damage to power lines, causing outages for several days. Examples: Hurricane Lili in 2002 (Louisiana) and Hurricane Gaston in 2004 (South Carolina)|
|2||96 – 110 mph||Extremely dangerous winds will cause extensive damage||Trees are bent over with more force; most shallow rooted trees will be snapped in half or uprooted. Flying debris can break your house windows and block roads. Major damage to roof and siding. Power outages might last for several days or even weeks. Examples: Hurricane Erin in 1995 (Atlantic coast of Florida) and Hurricane Arthur in 2014 (North Carolina)|
|3||111 – 129 mph||Devastating damage will occur||Really bad news, category 3 and above is what we call a major hurricane. Homes that aren’t built from brick and concrete will sustain massive damage including stripping away of roof decking and gable ends. Doors might get blown in. Trees and debris will block roads, water and electricity supply will be disrupted for weeks, even months in some areas. Many parts will be uninhabitable for months. Examples: Hurricane Katrina in 2005 (2nd landfall in southeast Louisiana and Mississippi) and Hurricane Linda in 2015 (Mexico and Southwestern United States)|
|4||130 – 156 mph||Catastrophic damage will occur||Severe damage to roofs and walls, most trees will be snapped or uprooted. Power poles will be torn up and flung aside, flying debris can break vehicles and homes. Lots of flooding and storm surges to be expected. Examples: The Great Galveston Hurricane in 1900 (Galveston, Texas) and Hurricane Ike in 2008 (Greater Antilles and portions of Northern America)|
|5||157 mph or higher||Catastrophic damage will occur||The entirety of the roof will be blown away, walls will collapse, doors and windows will get blown in, trees of all sizes will be uprooted, residential areas will be isolated by fallen debris. Power and water will be unavailable for weeks or months. Examples: Hurricane Andrew in 1992 (Bahamas, Florida, Louisiana) and Hurricane Dorian in 2019 (Lesser Antilles, Puerto Rico, Bahamas, Eastern United States and Canada)|
Note: To be classified as a hurricane, a tropical cyclone must have a one-minute maximum sustained wind speed of at least 74 mph or 119km/h. The Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale doesn’t classify the intensities of tropical storms and tropical depressions since they have lower wind speeds than a hurricane. Finally, the SSHWS only describes hurricanes formed in the Atlantic Ocean and North Pacific Ocean east of the International Date Line.
How the Saffir-Simpson scale was invented
It all begins in the late 1960s with Herbert Saffir, a civil engineer. He was well acquainted with structural engineering and building design, which meant he also knew exactly how hurricanes tore down these structures. Which is why, in 1969 he was commissioned by the United Nations to study low-cost housing for areas that frequently get hit by hurricanes. This is when he realized that they needed a unified and systematic way of measuring the destructive force brought about by these tropical storms.
VIDEO | ►3D Graphic overview of the Saffier-Simpson hurricane scale
Inspired by the Richter scale, which is used to measure earthquake intensity, Saffir came up with a scale of his own for hurricanes- ranging from 1 to 5. It relied on wind speed to measure potential damage to buildings. Saffir submitted his research to the National Hurricane Center for review. Over there a meteorologist by the name of Robert Simpson decided to make some upgrades. He was the director of the NHS at the time, and noted that hurricanes caused damage through flooding and storm surges as well. So he added the effects of storm surge and flooding to the scale, resulting in its final form which was introduced to the public in 1973 as the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale.
However, the NHC later realized that the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale doesn’t paint an accurate picture of how much flooding we can expect from a hurricane of Category “X”. For instance, both Hurricane Katrina (2005) and Hurricane Ike (2008) had surges much larger than initially predicted by the Saffir-Simpson scale. Conversely, Hurricane Charley (2004) produced a storm surge much weaker than initially expected based on its category. So in 2009, the NHC decided to remove pressure and storm surge from the model, transforming it into a pure wind-based scale which was now called the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale. This is what we used today.
Criticisms of the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale (SSHWS)
The scale was originally devised in the 1970s, and a lot has changed since then in terms of how we monitor the formation and impact of hurricanes. Our tools and methodologies have advanced significantly, and the Saffir-Simpson scale has often been criticized for being “too simplistic” by scientists such as Kerry Emanuel and Lakshmi Kantha.
One major point of concern brought up against the SSHWS is the fact that it doesn’t take into account the physical size of a storm. Hurricanes have diameters of several hundred kilometers, and the SSHWS primarily relies on wind speeds to determine a hurricane’s intensity. The SSHWS also doesn’t consider the amount of precipitation (rain, sleet, snow, etc.) brought about by a hurricane.
Another weakness of the SSHWS is that it isn’t continuous, and is only quantized into a very limited number of categories. For instance, it doesn’t measure tropical storms or depressions which have windspeeds below that of a Category 1 hurricane (but can still cause disruption to life and property). Finally, after incidents such as Hurricane Patricia, Irma, Dorian, Linda, Rick, etc. meteorologists have proposed the addition of a Category 6 and even Category 7. The SSHWS was originally intended to measure the impact of hurricanes on man-made structures, hence it doesn’t have any extra categories beyond 157mph (instead lumping everything after that point into Category 5).
Robert Simpson himself, one of the co-founders of the SSHWS, stated that once wind speeds go beyond 155mph even a few seconds of exposure to such forces will cause serious rupturing damage to any building, no matter how well it is engineered. Hence, he saw no need for a Category 6 designation. Still, architectural advancements and new innovations in materials technology means that today we have the ability to design buildings which can survive such wind speeds. In fact, the counties of Broward and Miami-Dade in Florida have building codes which make it mandatory for critical infrastructure buildings to be capable of withstanding Category 5 windspeeds.
Possible replacements: The Hurricane Intensity Index which factors in dynamic pressure generated by storm winds. And the Hurricane Hazard Index which takes into account multiple factors such as surface wind speeds, radius of maximum winds of a storm, translational velocity, etc.
Alternative Tropical Storm Scales
Different meteorological agencies across various parts of the world have their own climate models and methods of measuring storm intensity. The SSHWS is used by the National Hurricane Center (NHC) and Central Pacific Hurricane Center (CPHC). It is applicable only to tropical storms that originate in the Atlantic, Eastern, and Central Pacific.
In the Northwestern Pacific, these tropical storms are called typhoons. Japan, Hong Kong, China, Taiwan, etc. all have their own meteorological agencies dedicated to monitoring and classifying the development of tropical storms in these regions.
Any tropical storm that develops in the North Indian Ocean is monitored by the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) and is simply called a “cyclone”. The classification ranges from a simple depression (31 to 50km/h), all the way up to a super cyclonic storm (wind speeds 221 km/h and above).
Tropical cyclones that develop in the South-West Indian Ocean are monitored by Meteo France’s La Reunion tropical cyclone center (MFR). Here the scale goes from a “Tropical Disturbance” all the way up to a “Very Intense Tropical Cyclone”.
Tropical cyclones in the southern hemisphere around Australia and Fiji are monitored by multiple cyclone warning centers and meteorological organizations. These are run by the Fiji Meteorological Service, New Zealand MetService, Indonesia’s Badan Meteorologi, etc. Australian tropical cyclones are also measured on a Category scale ranging from 1 to 5 based on sustained wind speeds. However these sustained wind speed ranges vary from that of the SSHWS and are measured over a period of 10 minutes rather than one minute. Storm systems not strong enough to be classified as a tropical cyclone are called tropical disturbances or tropical lows.
The Formation Of A Hurricane | Four Stage Process
Hurricanes are extremely powerful forces of nature and can cause immeasurably vast amounts of damage to both property and life. These monsters appear on a near-yearly basis in certain parts of the world and are events which make their mark in the pages of history forever. A fully formed hurricane can span hundreds of miles across, be nearly 10 miles tall, with wind speeds reaching close to 200mph. And if a 600 mile wide, 50 thousand foot tall cloud of thunderstorms, rain, snow, and wind swirling around at 200mph isn’t impressive enough for you, how about this- a hurricane releases 50 terawatts of heat energy at any given moment. That is the equivalent of the total electrical energy consumption of the entire United States.
Annually. Yep, that’s how much energy a hurricane releases every instant. It’s like if you would detonate a 10-megaton nuke every 20 minutes. For perspective, the bomb dropped on Hiroshima had a yield of 15 kilotons. You would need to detonate 20,000 Little Boys every 20 minutes to rival a hurricane’s power. Remember when Donald Trump proposed nuking hurricanes in a meeting with national security officials? Yeah, I don’t think that would work out very well (if he did indeed make such a proposal). All we would end up with is the exact same hurricane, only this time it would be radioactive.
So, how does such a massive storm even get created? Well, it is a slow buildup process over a lot of time. Hurricanes are tropical storms which form near the equator, over warm water that is at least 80°F in temperature. Think of a hurricane as a giant self-fueled engine of destruction spanning hundreds of miles across. The engine requires two things to keep going-
A hurricane is a tropical storm, which means it occurs between the Tropic of Cancer in the northern hemisphere and the Tropic of Capricorn in the southern hemisphere. It doesn’t originate exactly on the equator, but a few degrees north/ south. The tropical belt is the part of the Earth which receives the most heat from the sun, because of how it is angled (this results in more direct sunlight).
Tropical regions have warmer ocean waters, and that’s exactly what is needed for a hurricane. A water temperature of 80°F or more, for a depth of at least 50 meters from the surface of the ocean. The next ingredient you need is moisture, and that is derived from wind blowing over the oceans. In case of hurricanes which are tropical storms that form in the Atlantic, you need wind blowing westwards from Africa into the Atlantic.
As this wind passes over the warm ocean waters, it causes water to evaporate. These water vapors then rise up in an updraft of warm air and as they keep going up into the sky, temperature levels start dropping (air gets colder the higher you go). And when temperature drops sufficiently, these water vapors condense back into water droplets, forming clouds. These are called cumulonimbus clouds, a type of dense towering vertical cloud formed upon powerful upward air currents in low pressure zones. These clouds eventually turn into thunderstorms. And since we are sitting right above a low pressure zone, colder high pressure air from the surrounding regions will try to rush in.
Note: Air always tries to move from a state of high pressure to low pressure, just as water always wants to flow downstream and heat always transfers from hotter to colder bodies. The system seeks to be in a state of equilibrium and equalized pressure, this is one of the fundamental forces behind the wind speeds of a hurricane.
However, incoming air doesn’t travel in a straight path. As the Earth is a spinning body, air coming in from the north of the equator ends up left of the storm formation/ low pressure zone. Air coming in from underneath the equator ends up on the right. This is called the Coriolis effect, and it happens because an object on the equator is essentially travelling at a faster rate than a point that is closer to either pole. That’s because the circumference of the Earth at its equator is larger compared to the circumference in sub tropical areas. Just like in a merry go round, where horses on the outermost ring travel faster than horses on the inside.
Fact: If the Earth didn’t spin, hurricanes wouldn’t either. The Coriolis effect is why hurricanes spin, and it is also the reason why hurricanes never form right on top of the equator or too close to it. There just isn’t enough difference in rotation at low latitudes to generate a spiral of thunderstorms that will eventually form a hurricane.
Now, the air coming in from the northern hemisphere is left of the center and gets sucked into the low pressure zone. The air coming in from the southern hemisphere is right of center and gets sucked in the same way. This creates a spiral effect with clouds spinning around a central “eye” in a counter-clockwise motion. Remember that this is only for hurricanes in the northern hemisphere. In the southern hemisphere, hurricanes spin clockwise. And the closer to the eye you get, the faster wind speeds become. That is because of angular momentum, just how a figure skater spins faster after pulling their arms in.
Meteorologists have segmented the formation of a hurricane into 4 distinct stages-
1. Tropical Disturbance:
This is the earliest stage of a hurricane when it is still building up condensation and amassing giant layers of clouds on top of each other. Warm ocean water turns into water vapor when cool winds from a high pressure zone flow in at a constant pace. This water vapor rises up and eventually condenses to form clouds. The heat released by water vapor upon condensation heats surrounding air and causes it to rise up further, pulling it into another column of clouds. More evaporation takes place at the ocean surface, and more condensation occurs, resulting in an ever increasing cloud column that keeps getting taller and larger. Hot wind rises up and circulates around the center creating a cluster of thunderstorm clouds called a tropical disturbance.
2. Tropical Depression:
As the tropical disturbance cloud cluster keeps getting taller, air at the extreme top end starts becoming unstable. That happens when the air at the top of the column starts cooling too rapidly after a certain height is reached. Water vapor condenses into water droplets, removing heat to cool as vapor cools down into droplets. This heat now makes the top of the tropical disturbance warmer, increasing air pressure and causing winds to flow outwards from the center, pushing clouds away.
High pressure air at the top now drops down back towards the ocean, and gets sucked back up along with the low pressure evaporating air that is rising up in the center. This generates a cycle of condensation and evaporation, building up wind speed and ever larger cloud clusters. When wind speeds reach 25 to 38mph, it is termed a tropical depression.
3. Tropical Storm:
This is basically a more advanced stage of a tropical depression with higher wind speeds. Once wind speeds exceed 39mph, it is officially a tropical storm. Now the storm gets a name and you’ve got what looks like a miniature hurricane with winds swirling thunderclouds around a central eye like structure.
When the tropical storm has wind speed in excess of 74mph, it achieves the status of a hurricane. A hurricane is at least 50,000 feet tall and 125 miles in diameter. For reference, commercial airliners fly between an altitude of 35000 to 42000 feet. Trade winds blowing from east to west push these tropical storms towards the Caribbean, Gulf of Mexico, and southeastern coast of the United States. The low air pressure combined with giant walls of wind causes pockets of ocean water to pile up around the center of the storm, resulting in massive tidal waves or storm surges when the hurricane makes landfall.
Hurricanes stop gaining energy and size upon landfall, since they are no longer being fed with moisture and warmth from the ocean. Still, the thunderstorms remain, and it takes a while before the winds die out. Massive amounts of rain can continue for days after the hurricane makes landfall, resulting in floods. The largest hurricanes can be up to a 1000 miles across and drop several trillion gallons of rainwater.
What Is A Tropical Depression?
I already explained this one earlier, a tropical depression is simply a less advanced stage of the hurricane with much lower wind speeds (up to 38mph maximum). It is caused by a area of low pressure above the ocean which causes water to evaporate and form thunderclouds. These thunderclouds keep expanding and merging for at least 24hrs. After which an eye forms at the center, and a cycle of condensation + evaporation keeps feeding the engine resulting in larger spirals of clouds and higher wind speeds. If this is kept up for another day or so, the tropical depression might turns into a tropical storm, which might then end up as a hurricane once its wind speeds exceed 74mph.
How Long Does A Hurricane Last?
The longest lasting hurricane in the Atlantic was San Ciriaco in 1899 which went on for a total of 28 days. The longest tropical cyclone was Typhoon John in 1994 which lasted a whopping 31 days. Then on the other end, you have events like Hurricane Charley in 2004. It only lasted 8 hours but was also one of the most devastating hurricanes in recent history, claiming 15 lives and causing $16.9 billion in damages. With wind speeds peaking at 150mph, Charley was a Category 4 hurricane.
How long a hurricane lasts depends on a multitude of factors- wind speed and direction, water temperature, the course of the hurricane, etc. All hurricanes lose steam once they hit land, but not before causing a ton of chaos and destruction. Very few hurricanes make it to Category 5, and most only last a couple of days.
Some last weeks if there is minimal interaction with land, since they keep drawing moisture and warmth from the ocean and become larger in the process. There are also exceptions like Hurricane John which started out as a hurricane in the eastern Pacific, intensified to Category 5 status south of Hawaii, crossed the International Date Line to become Typhoon John. After which it stalled out, executed a hairpin turn while weakening, then tracked northeast back over the date line to become Hurricane John once again. All this mayhem took place over a period of 30 days between August 11 to September 10 of 1994, during which John traveled a total of 8188 miles.
Why Do Hurricanes Steer?
Hurricanes often change track and execute turns in their path. Meteorologists and weather satellites are constantly on the watch to see if a hurricane takes a turn for the worse. Apart from the revolving motion of the hurricane winds themselves, there are also larger scale winds called steering flows. These are essentially global winds. These environmental flows or steering flows are like a river, and the hurricane is the little swirl you make with a canoe paddle. The swirl has its own lifespan and rotation, but it drifts along with the general direction of the river flow.
The environmental flow varies in speed and direction based on altitude, and is decided by heat exchange between the Earth’s surface and its atmosphere on a global scale. Generally hurricanes are created by easterly trade winds flowing westwards which cause the formation of storm clouds in low pressure zones over tropical sea waters. These storms then drift westwards into the southeastern coast of the United States and central America. But steering winds often change direction as the hurricane transitions from lower to higher latitudes, causing a westward hurricane to suddenly steer east.
How Does A Hurricane Die?
I mentioned earlier that hurricanes are perpetual engines of destruction that can go on forever if supplied with a continuous flow of fuel (moisture and heat). So think about what kills a hurricane- cutting off its supply of fuel, just like killing a car engine. A hurricane can stall or weaken if it moves into cooler waters or makes landfall.
If a hurricane moves northwards into cooler waters (away from the tropical region and towards the poles), it slows the rate of evaporation and stalls the growth by preventing formation of new clouds. If it makes landfall the entire water source is cut off, so it inevitably dies out.
One of the main reasons behind hurricanes losing energy is friction. When they are out on the seas, there is negligible friction between the wind and ocean surface resulting in higher air speeds. The Coriolis effect induced by Earth’s rotation ensures that the circling winds never fill up the hollow low pressure center called the eye. Instead of filling up the low pressure zone, air simply deflects around it and swirls up more clouds increasing the hurricane’s size.
Upon making landfall, the airspeed drops which means wind will gradually spiral inwards, collapsing on the core. The extremely low pressure zone at the center now starts filling up and this causes the pressure gradient to drop. Now we change from a positive feedback loop to just a feedback loop and eventually all energy is dissipated resulting in the hurricane’s death. This is also the reason hurricanes don’t lose energy or slow down after hitting islands, there just isn’t enough land area to generate friction worthy of stalling the core.
The Biggest Hurricane Ever
There are several metrics by which we can decide upon the destructive force and impact of a hurricane after it makes landfall. Wind speeds, area covered, precipitation, lifespan, etc. Depending on which metric you use, the title of biggest and baddest changes. If we go by barometric pressure alone, Hurricane Wilma from 2005 takes the top spot, reaching an intensity of 882 mbar (millibar, one millibar is equal to 100 pascals).
If we’re talking wind speed though, Hurricane Allen is the king of Atlantic storms with sustained peak wind speeds of 190 miles per hour (Formula one cars and stock cars in NASCAR hover around 200mph). For reference, wind speeds close to 100mph can severely damage houses, rip out trees from the ground, and toss power poles as if they were toothpicks.
Fun Fact: For global records, there is Hurricane Patricia with wind speeds approaching 215mph, making it the strongest tropical cyclone ever recorded on planet Earth.
The largest tropical cyclone on record is Typhoon Tip (1979) with a diameter of 1,380 miles or 2,220 kilometers. To give you an idea of just how large this monster was, at its peak, Typhoon Tip covered half the size of the contiguous United States. It was no slouch in terms of wind speed either, with peak 10-minute sustained wind speeds of 160mph (that’s already Category 5). With a barometric pressure of 870 mbar, Typhoon Tip is also one of the most intense hurricanes every to be recorded.
Note: If you want the largest Hurricane ever to form in the Atlantic basin, that would be Sandy (2012) at a mammoth 1000 miles in diameter.
If you want to know which Atlantic hurricane was the deadliest in recorded history, it is The Great Hurricane of 1780. Also known as the 1780 disaster, it claimed anywhere between 22000 to 27501 lives. The most devastating hurricane ever faced by the United States was The Great Galveston Hurricane, also known as the Great Storm of 1900. It is the deadliest natural disaster in U.S. history, with fatality counts ranging from 6000 all the way up to 12,000. Most of the deaths occurred in Galveston, Texas- where this massive hurricane made landfall.
Hurricane vs Typhoon vs Cyclone
All of the above are just different names for tropical cyclones. In the Atlantic and Northeast Pacific these tropical cyclones/ storms are called hurricanes. In the Indian Ocean they are simply called cyclones. In the northwestern pacific tropical storms are called typhoons. Most tropical cyclones end up fizzling out as merely a tropical depression, never making it to the status of typhoon or hurricane. A hurricane can become a typhoon and vice versa if it steers into a different section of the Pacific Ocean. Just look up Hurricane John (or shall I saw Typhoon John?).
What about tornadoes?
Tornadoes are actually very different from cyclones, both in how it’s formed and the structure of the storm. For starters, tropical cyclones/ hurricanes/ typhoons only form on oceans. Tornadoes however can form on the ocean, land, or anywhere in between. Tornadoes are basically tight whirlpools of air that are consequences of thunderstorms, with airspeeds ranging from 100 to 300mph. Tornadoes feature much higher airspeeds than cyclones but in a much smaller area with a typical width of a mile or two. Tornadoes are local events compared to cyclones, and very short lived as well. They are a consequence of weather, not the driving force behind it (unlike cyclones which change the weather wherever they travel, spanning several hundred miles in diameter). Tornadoes can also be formed as a side-effect when hurricanes/ typhoons make landfall.
Hurricane Season | When Does It Start And End?
Generally speaking, hurricane season starts on the 1st of June after peak heating of oceans takes place in summer. And it lasts all the way up to the end of fall in November. Keep in mind this is the Atlantic hurricane season, and hurricane season can vary depending on which part of the world you live in. Tropical cyclone or hurricane activity peaks in late summer when the difference between air temperature and sea surface temperature is the highest.
Some years the hurricane season can start a couple months earlier, depending on the various geological phenomena that affect heat exchange between the atmosphere and the ocean. On average, there are 10.1 named storms per season, with around 5.9 becoming hurricanes and 2.5 becoming major hurricanes (Category 5 or greater).
Hurricane season comes to an end when we approach winter and ocean temperatures cool down, so there is no heat to feed the hurricane engine. There just isn’t enough pressure differential for winds to form.
But remember that nature always tends to break its own rules and you never know if you might get a Hurricane in January or December, well after the end of the official period. Always keep yourself updated with weather reports, and take necessary precautions well ahead of time so you and your family don’t get caught off-guard.
Preparing For A Hurricane | Safety Tips
- If you live in a hurricane-prone area, note down all the evacuation routes. Keep both eyes and ears on the radio/ TV for local news regarding weather changes.
- If a hurricane watch has been issued for your part of the coast, it indicates the possibility of a hurricane making contact within 36 hours. This should be the sign to initiate protective measures and whatever disaster management plan you’ve got laid down for the family. If you’re on a barrier island, secure a boat and leave the area immediately.
- If a hurricane warning is issued, it means you can expect sustained wind speeds of at least 74mph within 24 hours. Once this warning is issued, you should be in the process of stashing supplies and important stuff in the safest possible location, along with your family.
Things to do before a hurricane:
- Have a disaster plan (where you will stay, which routes you can take, what food items to stock up on, etc.)
- Make sure you contact the veterinarian if you have pets in the house, and ensure that your pets are also prepared for an emergency.
- Board up windows to prevent them from getting smashed in.
- If you’ve got any outdoor objects which can get blown away, bring them inside.
- Prepare a disaster supply kit for both your home and car. Have enough food and water for at least 3 days, make sure to stock up on canned food and a can opener. You’ll also need a first-aid kit, protective clothing, flashlights, batteries, and a NOAA weather radio to listen up on storm advisories.
- Keep some cash handy since banks and ATMs will be out of service once the hurricane hits.
- Make sure your car has a full tank of gas
Things to do during a hurricane:
- Stay way from low-lying areas since they are prone to flooding.
- Don’t try to be an adventurer during the hurricane, barricade yourself indoors in the safest spot possible.
- If you’re in a mobile home, immediately evacuate and locate the nearest storm shelter (could also be a relative/ friend’s house).
- If emergency advisories tell you to evacuate, do so immediately
Things to do after a hurricane:
- Stay indoors until it is safe outside.
- Check for injured people and pets, but don’t put yourself in harms way (nobody wants an injured rescuer)
- Watch out for post-hurricane flash flooding.
- Don’t try to drive a car in 2 feet of water.
- Stay away from pools of standing water, they might be electrically charged from downed power lines or underground cables.
- Stick to bottled water, and only drink tap water once officials state it is safe to do so.