Hurricanes:  Frequently Asked Questions
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Seen everything that you wanted to see, and still have questions? Well, don't fret. Below are a series of Frequently Asked Questions about Hurricanes with answers that will give you an even more basic understanding of Hurricanes and Tropical Storms?

Q: What is a tropical cyclone?

A: A tropical cyclone is a warm core system that is vertically stacked and derives its energy from warm ocean waters. These cyclones go through several different stages as they transfer heat from the tropics to the poles.

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Q: What are the stages that a tropical cyclone goes through?

A: There are four different stages that a tropical cyclone goes through before maturing into a hurricane. They are: 1.) tropical disturbance, 2.) tropical depression, 3.) tropical storm, and 4.) a hurricane.

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Q: What is a tropical disturbance?

A: A tropical disturbance is a cluster of showers and thunderstorms with little or no circulation. Also
known as a tropical wave.

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Q: What is a tropical depression?

A: A tropical depression is a tropical disturbance that is a bit more organized, has a closed circulation, and wind speeds of 20 to 34 kts, or 25 to 38 mph.

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Q: What is a tropical storm?

A: A tropical storm develops when a tropical depression gains wind speeds of 35 to 64 kts or 39 to 73 mph.

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Q: What is a hurricane?

A: A tropical cyclone becomes a hurricane when its wind speeds reach or go above 65 kts, or 74 mph. After that, the hurricane is classified according to sustained winds and pressure by the Saffir-Simpson Scale.

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Q: What is the Saffir-Simpson Scale?

A: The Saffir-Simpson Scale is scale derived by a meteorologist and a structural engineer that is used to determine the strength and severity of a hurricane.

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Q: How many categories of hurricanes are classified in the Saffir-Simpson Scale?

A: Hurricanes are broken down into five different categories according to their power and potential damage they can do, which is determined by sustained wind speed and pressure.

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Q: What is the eye of a hurricane?

A: The eye of a hurricane is small area of clear weather that denotes the center of lowest pressure in the hurricane. This is denoted by calm winds and even sunny skies.

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Q: What is the eyewall?

A: The eyewall is the ring and heavy showers and thunderstorms that precede the eye of a hurricane. This is where the most severe weather, and highest sustained winds are usually reported.

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Q: What is the Central Dense Overcast?

A: The Central Dense Overcast is the circular mass of clouds that rotate around the center, or eye of a hurricane. This portion is usually symmetric in nature.

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Q: What are the outer bands of a hurricane?

A: The outer bands are a term given to the showers and thunderstorms that are along the periphery of a hurricane.

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Q: What are the feeder bands of a hurricane?

A: The feeder bands are a term given to the showers and thunderstorms that follow the outer bands and precede the eyewall of a hurricane.

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Q: What is the storm surge?

A: The storm surge is a term for the large dome of water that accompanies the landfall of a hurricane. It is responsible for approximately 90% of all deaths that occur in hurricanes.

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Q: What is upwelling?

A: Upwelling is a term for colder water coming up from the ocean's surface while a hurricane is spinning about in the same area for a prolonged period of time. This usually caused the hurricane to weaken.

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Q: What is wind shear?

A: Wind shear is a term given to upper level winds that blow from west to east against a westward bound hurricane, which tear up the hurricane's clouds, and hinders tropical development. .

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Q: What is a Tropical Storm Watch?

A: A Tropical Storm Watch means potential danger as a tropical storm is about 48 hours away from landfall.

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Q: What is a Tropical Storm Warning?

A: A Tropical Storm Warning means danger is developing as a tropical storm is about 24 hours away from landfall.

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Q: What is a Hurricane Watch?

A: A Hurricane Watch means that possible danger is developing as a hurricane is about 36 to 48 hours away from landfall.

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Q: What is a Hurricane Warning?

A: A Hurricane Warning means that a life threatening situation is imminent as a hurricane is less than 24 hours away from landfall.

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Q: What are the effects associated with a hurricane?

A: The effects that are most commonly associated with a landfalling hurricane include: 1.) heavy rain, 2.) high winds, 3.) waves and storm surge, 4.) tornadoes, and 5.) flooding.

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Q: What are the most common origins of such tropical cyclones as hurricanes?

A: The three most common origins of tropical storms and hurricanes are in the following regions: 1.) Gulf of Mexico, 2.) Western Caribbean, and 3.) Near the Cape Verde Islands off the coast of West Africa.

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Q: What are the most common tracks of tropical storms and hurricanes?

A: The most common tracks of tropical storms and hurricanes are the following: 1.) Originating off the West Coast of Africa near the Cape Verde Islands, and traveling westward toward the Caribbean and the East Coast of the United States, 2.) Originating in the Western Caribbean, and moving into the Gulf Coast, or along the East Coast of the United States, and 3.) Originating In the Gulf of Mexico, and moving into the Gulf Coast states from Texas to Florida.

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Q: Why are tropical storms and hurricanes named?

A: The reason why names are given to tropical storms and hurricanes is because naming them makes it easier for residents in the affected area to recognize, remember, and understand.

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Q: How are tropical storms and hurricanes named?

A: Tropical storms and hurricanes are named by the National Hurricane Center by using a six year rotating list of male and female names. Whenever, there is a powerful hurricane such as Hurricane Andrew (1992), which makes landfall and causes death and damages, the name is then retired from the list to avoid future confusion.

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Q: What is the National Hurricane Center?

A: The National Hurricane Center is part of the United States Department of Commerce. It's primary function is to provide advisories, warnings, and forecasts on tropical storms and hurricanes to residents along coastal areas of the United States.

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Q: What are the average number of named storms each hurricane season?

A: The average number of tropical storms each season is between 9 and 10 named storms each hurricane season.

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Q: What are the average number of hurricanes each hurricane season?

A: The average number of hurricanes each season is between 5 and 6 named storms each hurricane season.

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Q: What are the average number of major hurricanes each hurricane season?

A: The average number of hurricanes each season is between 2 and 3 named storms each hurricane season.

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Q: Can a tornado occur in a hurricane? Why or why not?

A: Yes, a tornado can occur in a hurricane because of the tremendous instability in the atmosphere caused by the friction between a landfalling hurricane, and the area its affecting, particularly in its Northeast quadrant where winds are the strongest, and the counterclockwise flow around it is prevalent. However, these tornadoes are usually minimal in strength, which is equivalent to F0 or F1 on the Fujita Scale.

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Q: Are there any benefits to having a hurricane?

A: Believe it or not, yes. Hurricanes are play a very important role in preserving the heat balance that the earth maintains by transferring heat from the tropics to the poles. They also can be very helpful to areas affected by drought with their torrential rains.

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Q: What was the deadliest hurricane to make landfall in the United States?

A: The deadliest hurricane to make landfall in the United States happens to be the worst natural disaster in American History. It was the Great Galveston Hurricane of 1900, which struck on September 8, 1900, and left some 6,000 to 8,000 people (maybe more) dead.

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Q: What was the costliest hurricane to make landfall in the United States?

A: The costliest hurricane in United States History was also the costliest natural disaster in United States History. Hurricane Katrina replaced Hurricane Andrew by causing at least some $81 billion dollars in damage along the Gulf Coast including Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama. Costs could go much higher than that with final estimates going as high as $200 billion dollars.

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Q: What was the strongest hurricane to make landfall in the United States?

A: The strongest hurricane to ever make landfall in the United States was the Labor Day Hurricane of 1935, which roared through the Florida Keys. It had a central pressure of 26.35 in of Hg/892 mb of Hg when it made landfall over Key West, Florida.

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Q: How many Category Five Hurricanes have made landfall in the United States?

A: Three: The Labor Day Hurricane of 1935, Hurricane Camille, which struck the Mississippi Gulf Coast in August, 1969 with 180 mph winds, and killed 250 people from Louisiana to Virginia, and Hurricane Andrew, which struck South Florida in August, 1992.

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Q: Who are the Hurricane Hunters?

A: They are a group of meteorologists and air force pilots, which fly into and around hurricanes to research and investigate them so that they can make a forecast on where they will go, and how strong they will become.

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Q: What is rapid intensification?

A: Rapid intensification is a process in which a tropical storm, or a minimal hurricane rapidly deepens in a short amount of time. Examples of such storms that underwent rapid intensification are Hurricane Hugo in 1989, Hurricane Andrew in 1992, Hurricane Opal in 1995, Hurricane Isabel in 2003, and Hurricane Charley in 2004.

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Q: What is eyewall replacement?

A: It is a process that major hurricanes, especially powerful major hurricanes undertake when they try to reorganize, and get stronger. An outer eyewall develops around the original eyewall, and begins to sap the inner eyewall of its intensity and moisture, and thus become the dominant eyewall.

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Q: What was the costliest tropical storm in United States History?

A: Tropical Storm Allison. This storm formed in the Gulf of Mexico during the first week of the 2001 Atlantic Hurricane Season, and dumped over 30 inches of rain in the Houston, Texas area leaving behind over $4 billion dollars in damage.

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Q: What is the average duration of a hurricane at Category Five strength?

A: Not very long. Usually, it is quite amazing to see a hurricane last for more than 24 hours at Category Five Hurricane intensity. However, there have been several powerful hurricanes that have been able to reach such an intensity, and maintain it for over 30 hours. These storms include Hurricane Isabel in September, 2003, and Hurricane Dog in 1950.

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Q: Why are powerful hurricanes usually small?

A: Very interesting question. Hurricanes such as Andrew, the Labor Day Hurricane of 1935, and Hurricane Camille were all powerful hurricanes at Category Five strength, but also quite small relative to other storms. This was most likely because the storms were so powerful with high winds, that in order to conserve momentum, their size was smaller than hurricanes such as Gilbert or Hugo. Gilbert, which was a Category Five Hurricane at one point, grew tremendously in size after moving over the Yucatan Peninsula, and dropped significantly in intensity to 120 mph winds.

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Q: What are concentric eyewalls?

A: Concentric eyewalls are a phenomena that are a product of both rapid intensification and eyewall replacement, where two eyewalls develop within a hurricane causing it to weaken. An example of concentric eyewalls occurring was in Hurricane Gilbert as it moved through the Yucatan Peninsula, and back out into the Gulf of Mexico in September, 1988.

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Q: What was the fastest moving hurricane ever?

A: The Long Island Express of 1938. In a period of six hours, this powerful and devastating Category Three Hurricane rapidly moved northward from Cape Hatteras, North Carolina to New England in about six hours. The storm moved as fast as 70 mph up the coast.

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Q: Have there been any hurricanes in the South Atlantic?

A: Yes, but they are very rare. Perhaps a few every century. Water temperatures are much colder in this region due to the presence of the Benguelan current, which emanates off of Southwest Africa. An example of a hurricane in the South Atlantic was a hurricane that struck the Catarina region of Southeastern Brazil in March, 2004.

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Q: When has the greatest number of named storms occurred?

A: Twice. In September 2003 and August 2004. There were eight named storms that formed during both these months.

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Q: What was the lowest pressure ever recorded in an Atlantic Hurricane?

A: When Hurricane Wilma approached the Yucatan Peninsula in October, 2005. Hurricane Hunter aircraft flew into the storm on the evening of October 19th, and found a minimum central pressure of 26.05 inches of Hg, or 882 millibars. It surpassed the mark set by Hurricane Gilbert in September, 1988.

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Q: What was the longest lasting hurricane in the Atlantic?

A: Not Hurricane Alberto in August, 2000. Even though Alberto lasted three weeks, and was the longest lasting storm ever during the month of August. It was only the third longest lasting storm on record behind Hurricane Ginger in 1971, and the San Ciricao Hurricane of 1899 that impacted Puerto Rico, and lasted for 33 days before going through the Azores as a Category One Hurricane, and became extratropical shortly afterward.

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Q: What was the most rainfall ever record in an Atlantic Hurricane?

A: Hurricane Mitch in October, 1998. Over a three to four day period, the Category Five Hurricane dumped approximately 75 inches of rain over the Central American country of Honduras. The deluge devastated Honduras leaving at least 11,000 people dead.

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Q: What were the most names used by the NHC in an Atlantic Hurricane Season?

A: Twenty-eight in 2005. The 2005 season was the most active hurricane season ever with the National Hurricane Center going through the entire list of storm names assigned for that season, and for the first time ever, going through a secondary list from the Greek alphabet. 1933 previously had the most storms with 21, but the National Weather Service and the National Hurricane Center didn't start using names until 1950.

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Q: Are there such things as Arctic Hurricanes?

A: Hurricanes are warm core systems that only flourish in the tropical or subtropical regions. With that said, there are Mid-Latitude Cyclones, or Nor'easters that have winds at, or in excess of hurricane force. Some of these can actually be remnants of former hurricanes too.

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Q: What influence does El Nino have on Atlantic Hurricanes?

A: Fortunately for those along the Eastern Seaboard of the United States from Texas to Maine, El Nino occurrences have a negative impact on Atlantic Hurricanes. The warmer than normal sea surface temperatures created in the Pacific influence global climate in such a way that it makes hostile upper level wind conditions throughout the Atlantic Basin, which tend to shear the vertically stacked hurricane structure apart. An example of an El Nino year was in 1997 when there were only eight named storms.

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Q: What influence does La Nina have on Atlantic Hurricanes?

A: Unfortunately for residents along the Eastern Seaboard from Texas to Maine, La Nina events usually mean active hurricane seasons in the Atlantic. The cooler than normal sea surface temperatures in the Pacific result in more favorable upper level wind conditions in the Atlantic, which help hurricanes and tropical storms flourish. An example of a La Nina year was 1995 when there were 19 named storms, 11 hurricanes, and 5 major hurricanes.

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Q: Why can't hurricanes form near or on the equator?

A: Because there is no spin created there. Storms in the Mid-Latitudes to the subtropical regions tend to have an angle, which allows for a spin or rotation to develop. No such things exist near or on the equator. There are rare storms such as Hurricane Ivan in September, 2004, which form in extremely low latitudes.

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Q: Why do hurricanes travel westward?

A: Hurricanes travel in a westward direction because in the tropics and subtropics, the Bermuda High, Bermuda-Azores High, or the Subtropical ridge is the primary steering feature in the Atlantic. Air rotates clockwise around a high pressure system, which creates an easterly, or southeasterly flow that pushes tropical storms and hurricanes to the west.

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Q: Do Hurricanes transport salt water with their circulation?

A: Quite possible. Hurricanes have been known to transport things such as birds from tropical lands to places such as New England. The salt in the salt water probably travels with the storm, and is probably used as condensation nuclei that the storm's precipitation can form from. Remember, in order for rain to form, the moisture must be able to stick on to something so that it can accumulate.

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Q: Do Hurricanes or Tropical Storms change their name when they move into a different basin?

A: Yes. If a hurricane or tropical storm that starts out in one region, or basin moves into another, it changes its name from the one it had in the initial basin to the current available name on the list for the new basin. For example, in August, 2004, Tropical Storm Earl developed in the Atlantic. Then, after dissipating into an open wave in the Central Caribbean, Earl's remnants crossed into the Eastern Pacific via Central America, and regenerated into a hurricane, and was named Frank.

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Q: What year had the most named storms in the Atlantic Basin?

A: 2005. The 2005 season broke a lot of records, and this was one of them. It was the most active season ever, and the second time in a decade that more than 18 named storms in the 1995 season. Previous record was 21 during the 1933 season.

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Q: What is the record for most hurricanes in an Atlantic season?

A: 15. This was another mark set in the record breaking season of 2005. The previous mark was 12 set in the 1969 Atlantic Hurricane season.

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Q: What is the record for the most major hurricanes in a season?

A: Eight. This mark was set in 1950, and stood tall after the hectic season of 2005, which tied for second with seven. 1961 also had seven major hurricanes.

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Q: What is the record for the most Category Five Hurricanes in a season?

A: Four. This mark was set in 2005 as well. Katrina, Rita, Wilma, and after further evaluation, Emily all attained the highest level a hurricane have on the Saffir-Simpson Scale. Previous mark was two set in 1961.

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Q: What is the statistical peak of the Atlantic Hurricane Season?

A: September 10th. This is because of the lag in time that exists between maximum land temperatures and maximum sea temperatures. Remember, in order for a hurricane to form and flourish, sea surface temperatures have to be at least 80 degrees Fahrenheit.

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Q: What is an extratropical storm?

A: An extratropical storm is one that is a cold core system. Many times these storms, which can also be called Mid-Latitude cyclones, can develop from a decaying tropical storm that loses its tropical characteristics.

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Q: What are the differences between an extratropical and tropical system?

A: As mentioned before an extratropical system is one that is also called an Mid-Atlantic cyclone. It is also a cold core system meaning it has cold air in the area of lowest pressure. In addition, extratropical storms are tilted systems which is because low pressure at different levels are not stacked right on top of each other until they fully mature. These systems also have wind shear with wind blowing in opposite directions with height. These systems are often described as baroclinic in nature. Meanwhile, tropical systems are warm core systems that have warm air in the area of lowest pressure, vertically stacked with the low pressures at the surface, mid, and upper levels in sync, and they don't like wind shear. These systems are often described as barotropic in nature.

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