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July 1, 2022

Hurricanes: Wet & Wild Weather

Authored by: Dominique Jenkins | Communications Intern

Florida is famous for its sunshine and amazing beaches, but it is also known as the hurricane capital of the U.S. Hurricanes are a dangerous force of nature with strong winds, heavy rains, and flooding. The Atlantic Hurricane Season runs from June 1st through November 30th. This window of time is when the majority of hurricanes develop, peaking in mid-August to October. In fact, scientists predict 2022 to be an above-average season, with six to ten hurricanes expected to form.

Storm Development

One of the defining features of a hurricane is the way that these storms spin across the ocean. This phenomenon is caused by the Coriolis Effect­‑ the idea that the Earth spins faster at the equator than it does at the poles. Because of this, hurricane winds in the Northern Hemisphere rotate counterclockwise, while hurricane winds in the Southern Hemisphere rotate clockwise. Most hurricanes form near the equator, with warm ocean water serving as fuel. When warm air rises, cool air enters and creates a low-pressure system that becomes the eye of the hurricane. The heat generated when clouds form, along with the warm ocean waters and low pressure, helps sustain the temperatures needed for storm development, thus strengthening the storm.

Scientists began grouping hurricanes into categories based on wind speeds using the Saffir-Simpson Scale in the 1970s. Once winds are sustained at 74 mph, a tropical storm is officially upgraded to a Category 1 hurricane. Though Category 1 hurricanes are the least powerful, they can still cause serious destruction. The most powerful hurricanes are classified as Category 5, with wind speeds above 156 mph. A hurricane is considered major if it is a Category 3, 4, or 5 and has wind speeds greater than 111 mph. The most powerful hurricane recorded in U.S. history was the Labor Day Hurricane of 1935, which made landfall between Miami and Key West on September 2, 1935. The hurricane sustained winds of 185 mph with gusts up to 200 mph.

As we continue to learn more about hurricanes, scientists are monitoring the role climate change may play in the future. Though the number of hurricanes each year may not change, the ones that form are predicted to be more extreme due to rising ocean temperatures. The most important thing we can do to protect ourselves is to prepare for hurricanes in advance. Have an emergency plan in place and stock up on supplies such as food, water, batteries, and first aid items. Hurricanes are the wettest and wildest storms on Earth, and these formidable forces of nature won’t stop anytime soon.