The anatomy of a hurricane

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We’re just past the halfway mark in this year’s hurricane season — with three hurricanes churning in the Atlantic basin. Familiarize yourself with what makes a hurricane, because you’ll be hearing these terms a lot:

Eye: The center of the storm. If you are in the eye, you can see the stadium effect — where the clouds stack up like a stadium. It is the calmest part of the storm. You can even see blue sky during the day and stars at night.

Eye wall: This is the most dangerous portion of the storm. This is the only area where you will find the winds that are the “strength” of the hurricane, or maximum winds.

Hurricane force winds: Hurricane force winds weaken the farther you move away from the eye. In just a few miles you can drop a whole category.

Tropical storm force winds: Tropical storm force winds usually are felt throughout a large swath of a hurricane. But they don’t stretch as far as the outer edge of the clouds. These winds are still dangerous but are not the worst of the storm.

Outer bands: These are bands that spiral out of the storm like a pinwheel with water on it. These lines of storms are where tornadoes typically form. It is also where flooding can occur. The bands can create a “training” effect where it just continues to rain in the same place, like we saw in Houston for days after Harvey.

Saffir Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale

This is the scale used to measure how strong a hurricane is.

  • Category 1: Winds 74 to 95 mph (Minor damage)
  • Category 2: Winds 96 to 110 mph (Extensive damage — Can uproot trees and break windows)
  • Category 3: Winds 111 to 129 mph (Devastating — Can break windows and doors)
  • Category 4: Winds 130 to 156 mph (Catastrophic damage — Can tear off roofs)
  • Category 5: Winds 157 mph or higher (The absolute worst and can level houses and destroy buildings)

For a hurricane to form, it needs warm water, damp air and winds that come together. And thanks to warm sea surface temperatures and a weak or nonexistent El Niño, 2017 is shaping up to be an above-normal hurricane season.


Related links:

Full Coverage: Hurricane Irma

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