Did you know that Florida is the most prone state to hurricanes, experiencing abut 40% of all occurrences in the United States? As residents, having a strong knowledge of hurricanes is imperative. Knowing the facts and what to expect during the season can ease stress and confusion and help you in times of emergency. Keep reading to learn about how hurricanes form, the various categories, and important terminology.
How They Form
Warm thunderstorms paired with warm ocean water is the recipe for a hurricane. They usually begin as a violent tropical wave. As the storm continues to move across the tropics, or near the equator, the warm air from the ocean rises into the air, creating an area of low-pressure underneath. As more air rushes in, the water begins to evaporate, rise, and cool down. The cooled vapor then condenses into water droplets which form the dark clouds before the real storm begins. Once the speed of the wind reaches 74mph, it is classified as a hurricane. The water must be at least 80 degrees to form a hurricane, which is why they only occur in tropical regions. Hurricanes are known to take 1-2 days to form but can be predicted about 3-7 days in advance. Meteorologists categorize the development of a hurricane into four stages: Tropical Disturbance, Tropical Depression, Tropical Storm, then Hurricane.
Hurricanes can be categorized from1-5 based on wind speed and expected damage. 3-5 are considered “major” hurricanes.
Wind Speed & Damages
- Category One: 74-95 mph Dangerous winds causing some damage.
- Category Two: 96-110 mph Extremely dangerous winds causing substantial damage.
- Category Three: 111-129 mph Devastating damage expected.
- Category Four: 4 130-156 mph Catastrophic damage expected.
- Category Five: 157+ mph Catastrophic damage expected.
Click here to learn about past Florida hurricanes and their rated categories.
Tropical Cyclone– the scientific term for a hurricane. “Hurricane” is only used for storms that form in the Atlantic or eastern Pacific Oceans.
Hurricane Season– the period of the year when hurricanes, or tropical cyclones, are most likely to form. Hurricane season is from June 1st to November 30th.
Hurricane Watch– Hurricane conditions are possible within the next 24–36-hour period.
Hurricane Warning– Hurricane conditions are expected within the current 24-hour period.
Eye– The circular center of a tropical storm or hurricane. When the eye size is shrinking, the storm is escalating.
Direct Hit– A close approach of a hurricane to a specific area.
Indirect Hit– Areas that will not experience a direct hit but will experience intense winds and irregularly high tides.
NWS (n.d.). Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale. NHCNOAA. https://www.nhc.noaa.gov/aboutsshws.php
NOAA (2023, January 20). How do hurricanes form? National Ocean Service. https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/how-hurricanes-form.html#:~:text=Warm%20ocean%20waters%20and%20thunderstorms,enhancing%20shower%20and%20thunderstorm%20activity.