|Florida Nature: Hurricane Season|
What is a Hurricane?
A hurricane is a type of tropical cyclone, which is a generic term for a low pressure system that generally forms in the tropics. The cyclone is accompanied by thunderstorms and, in the Northern Hemisphere, a counterclockwise circulation of winds near the earth's surface. The ingredients for a hurricane include a pre-existing weather disturbance, warm tropical oceans, moisture, and relatively light winds aloft. If the right conditions persist long enough, they can combine to produce the violent winds, incredible waves, torrential rains, and floods we associate with this phenomenon. A hurricane is an intense tropical weather system of strong thunderstorms with a well-defined surface circulation and maximum sustained winds of 74 mph (64 kt) or higher Each year, an average of eleven tropical storms develop over the Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean Sea, and Gulf of Mexico. Many of these remain over the ocean and never impact the U.S. coastline. Six of these storms become hurricanes each year. Hurricanes are categorized according to the strength of their winds using the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale. A Category 1 storm has the lowest wind speeds, while a Category 5 hurricane has the strongest. These are relative terms, because lower category storms can sometimes inflict greater damage than higher category storms, depending on where they strike and the particular hazards they bring. In fact, tropical storms can also produce significant damage and loss of life, mainly due to flooding.
When is Hurricane Season?
The Atlantic hurricane season is officially from 1 June to 30 November. There is nothing magical in these dates, and hurricanes have occurred outside of these six months, but these dates were selected to encompass over 97% of tropical activity. June 1st has been the traditional start of the Atlantic hurricane season for decades. However, the end date has been slowly shifted outward, from October 31st to November 15th until its current date of November 30th.
Tropical Depression: An organized system of clouds and thunderstorms with a defined surface circulation and maximum sustained winds* of 38 mph (33 kt**) or less
Tropical Storm: An organized system of strong thunderstorms with a defined surface circulation and maximum sustained winds of 39-73 mph (34-63 kt)
Hurricane: An intense tropical weather system of strong thunderstorms with a well-defined surface circulation and maximum sustained winds of 74 mph (64 kt) or higher
Sustained Winds: A 1-minute average wind measured at about 33 ft (10 meters) above the surface.
1 knot = 1 nautical mile per hour or 1.15 statute miles per hour. Abbreviated as "kt".
Hurricane Eye: The "eye" is a roughly circular area of comparatively light winds and fair weather found at the center of a severe tropical cyclone. Although the winds are calm at the axis of rotation, strong winds may extend well into the eye. There is little or no precipitation and sometimes blue sky or stars can be seen. The eye is the region of lowest surface pressure and warmest temperatures.
Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale- The Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale is a 1 to 5 categorization based on the hurricane's intensity at the indicated time. The scale provides examples of the type of damages and impacts in the United States associated with winds of the indicated intensity. In general, damages rise by about a factor of four for every category increase. The maximum sustained surface wind speed (peak 1-minute wind at 10 m [33 ft]) is the determining factor in the scale. The historical examples (one for the U.S. Gulf Coast and one for the U.S. Atlantic Coast) provided in each of the categories correspond with the intensity of the hurricane at the time of landfall in the location experiencing the strongest winds, which does not necessarily correspond with the peak intensity reached by the system during its lifetime. The scale does not address the potential for such other hurricane-related impacts, as storm surge, rainfall-induced floods, and tornadoes.
Tropical Storm Winds 39-73 mph
Category 1 Hurricane — winds 74-95 mph (64-82 kt)
No real damage to buildings. Damage to unanchored mobile homes. Some damage to poorly constructed signs. Also, some coastal flooding and minor pier damage.
- Examples: Irene 1999 and Allison 1995
Category 2 Hurricane — winds 96-110 mph (83-95 kt)
Some damage to building roofs, doors and windows. Considerable damage to mobile homes. Flooding damages piers and small craft in unprotected moorings may break their moorings. Some trees blown down.
- Examples: Bonnie 1998, Georges 1998 and Gloria 1985
Category 3 Hurricane — winds 111-130 mph (96-113 kt)
Some structural damage to small residences and utility buildings. Large trees blown down. Mobile homes and poorly built signs destroyed. Flooding near the coast destroys smaller structures with larger structures damaged by floating debris. Terrain may be flooded well inland.
- Examples: Keith 2000, Fran 1996, Opal 1995, Alicia 1983 and Betsy 1965
Category 4 Hurricane — winds 131-155 mph (114-135 kt)
More extensive curtainwall failures with some complete roof structure failure on small residences. Major erosion of beach areas. Terrain may be flooded well inland.
- Examples: Hugo 1989 and Donna 1960
Category 5 Hurricane — winds 156 mph and up (135+ kt)
Complete roof failure on many residences and industrial buildings. Some complete building failures with small utility buildings blown over or away. Flooding causes major damage to lower floors of all structures near the shoreline. Massive evacuation of residential areas may be required.
- Examples: Andrew 1992, Camille 1969 and Labor Day 1935
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