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To be classified a hurricane the storm must sustain at least a 74 miles-per-hour wind level. Hurricanes are divided into various categories to better define their wind levels and threats. A Category 5 hurricane – the most severe category – features sustained winds of more than 155 mph and a storm surge of 18 feet or more of water.
The severity and intensity of a hurricane determines how it is classified. The Saffir-Simpson Scale rates hurricane strength in categories based upon the potential damage a hurricane may cause.
Category 1: Minimal damage, wind speeds from 74 to 95 mph.
Category 2: Moderate damage, wind speeds from 96 to 110 mph.
Category 3: Extensive damage, wind speeds from 111 to 130 mph.
Category 4: Extreme damage, wind speeds from 131 to 155 mph.
Category 5: Catastrophic damage, wind speeds above 155 mph.
Hurricanes are extremely dangerous weather events. Hurricane Hugo, for example, took 49 lives and caused millions of dollars in damage in 1989 when it came ashore in South Carolina and North Carolina. Hurricane Andrew struck near Miami, Florida in 1992 and caused more than $25 billion in damage.
A hurricane is a severe tropical storm consisting of high winds and storm surges that form in the warm, humid ocean climates of the southern Atlantic, the eastern Pacific, the Caribbean Sea or Gulf of Mexico. Hurricanes prevail mostly during the summer and early fall and can vary greatly in size and strength.
Hurricanes are creatures of the sea – the fierce storms form in the warm ocean areas of the tropics and can grow as they travel. Hurricanes are created when several conditions are met: warm surface ocean temperatures, light winds aloft, and spin or rotation.
The warm surface temperature of the sea (at least 80 degrees Fahrenheit) is a key ingredient since it acts as fuel for the storm. Since hurricanes travel east to west, the light winds aloft are necessary so the storm is supported by an easterly wind flow. And the forming hurricane must have spin or rotation generated by winds coming together.
The storm may be the same but if the location is different, people may refer to the storm in a different terminology.
If a tropical storm begins in the Gulf of Mexico, Caribbean Sea, the north Atlantic or northeast Pacific Ocean, it's called a hurricane. Similar tropical storms which occur in the northwest Pacific west of the International Date Line or called typhoons. The same storm is called a tropical cyclone in Australia and around the Indian Ocean.
The active hurricane season runs from June 1 to November 30. According to NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) an above-average hurricane season is predicted for 2004 with 12 to 15 tropical storms. NOAA expects six to eight of these storms to develop into hurricanes.
Hurricanes usually come ashore in the United States on the southern tip of Florida, the outer banks of North Carolina, and from the Texas Gulf Coast area to Louisiana.
An emergency weather alert radio is an invaluable tool if a hurricane threatens your local area. Evacuation instructions, important emergency announcements and other critical information will be broadcast along with updated storm locations.
Check with your local emergency management office for additional instructions about how to prepare for a hurricane.
The high winds associated with a hurricane produce another extreme danger when the storm approaches land – a storm surge of ocean water that sometimes reaches 25 feet in height.
Storm surges are giant wind-whipped waves that cause most of the damage and loss of life associated with hurricanes.
The tradition of assigning names to hurricanes began hundreds of years ago when the tropical storms were named after the particular saints day on which they occurred. This allowed people to track the storms by assigning a specific name to it.
An Australian meteorologist, Clement Wragge, began assigning hurricanes the names of women in the late 19th century. The practice continued until 1978 when the names of both men and women were first included in the storm lists.
A massive hurricane devastated Galveston, Texas on Sept. 8, 1900. Reports estimated that as many as 8,000 to 12,000 people died when the city, built on a sand bar and not more than nine feet above sea level, was inundated with a four-foot tidal surge and winds of more than 100 mph. Almost all buildings in the city were either damaged or swept into the sea.