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How Hurricanes Form

One thing that is understood about hurricanes.  They are no joke!  Personally, I have been in several hurricanes and each storm is different.  The tropical storm systems each have their own characteristics.  Example: Hurricane Maria (2017), a category 5 hurricane at landfall, that hit Puerto Rico was my second hurricane to intercept on the island of PR.  However, Maria devastated the island and the people that live there while Hurricane Irma, a category 5 and the strongest hurricane that can form, had the inner eye wall skirted to the northeast of San Juan by 30 miles and cause massive damage and power outages across the island.

Extreme 130mph winds as hurricane Irma made landfall in Marcos Island, FL (09/10/2017)

Video shot by Caleb Elliott of StormVids.com

Despite the fact of being crazy enough to purposely go directly to the path of an incoming hurricane, one has to ask how do hurricanes form?
Let’s get a basic understanding.

First, you need warm water.
Second, you need a low shear environment.
Then you need storms to initiate.
Most hurricanes start as a bunch of thunderstorms that explode over the ocean off the coast of Africa.  This complex of thunderstorms begins to increase in area and as the air within this area begins to rise, being just slightly north of the equator, it begins to turn counter-clockwise as a low pressure begins to form.

Along the equatorial region, tradewinds carry the thunderstorm complex to the west over the Atlantic ocean.
Hurricanes can’t form at any time of the year, either.  There are ingredients that must be in place.
Hurricanes need 1.) Water temperature of at least 79 degrees F, 2.) be over open water and 3.) low shear aloft (basically, a relative higher pressure above the developing tropical system).

As a hurricane intensifies, in most cases, an “eye” will form.  This eye is the result of all the air being drawn or sucked in to the low pressure and being pushed up through the center and out of the top of the hurricane.   The eyewall, or the clouds and storms most near the eye, are where the most dangerous and destructive winds are within a hurricane.  In some cases, I have witnessed two eye walls.  An inner and outer eyewall.  Hurricane Maria and Irma both exhibited this feature.  However, the inner eyewall is the most intense and extreme winds within the hurricane.

Once a hurricane has intensified through tropical depression and tropical storm wind strengths, it will become a hurricane at 74mph(60kts).  While the winds continue to whips counter-clockwise around the hurricane complex, the winds drive the ocean water around the massive storm, as well.  This results in a storm surge.  A kind of building up of water that has been most noticeable on the northeastern side of the hurricane.  This storm surge can be very deadly when all the conditions come together.

In some cases, hurricane storm surges do not affect the land areas they come close to.  Example: Hurricane Matthew (Oct 2016 – Category 4) came to within just 10 miles of Cocoa Beach and Daytona Beach, FL.  However, since the Florida peninsula only experienced the western side of the hurricane, the violent winds helped to minimize storm surge effects.

There you have it.  The very basics on how a hurricane forms and moves across the Atlantic Ocean.  Oh, by the way…if a tropical storm system develops in the Pacific Ocean, they are referred to as a Typhoon.

Extreme 150+ mph winds as hurricane Maria made landfall and devastated Puerto Rico (09/10/2017)

Video shot by Brandon Clement of WxChasing.com

Read through the infographic below and increase your knowledge about how hurricanes form.
hurricane-formation How hurricanes form
Infographic design by Weather Underground

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