What causes a hurricane?

Hurricanes are one of the most destructive forces known to man, a force which we're observing with greater frequency, but what causes them?

Ste Wright | 3 min read

Hurricanes are one of the most powerful natural disasters on Earth, capable of causing widespread destruction and loss of life. These massive storms are typically formed over warm ocean waters and are fueled by a combination of heat, moisture, and atmospheric instability. In this article, we will explore the underlying causes of hurricanes and why they start at sea. Their increase in frequency is attributed to climate change which affects our seas in many other ways.

The process of hurricane formation begins with a disturbance in the atmosphere. This disturbance can be caused by a variety of factors, including changes in wind patterns, temperature, and pressure. As the disturbance intensifies, it can trigger a chain reaction that leads to the formation of a tropical depression, which is a low-pressure system that produces thunderstorms and rain.

If the conditions are right, the tropical depression can continue to grow and intensify, eventually becoming a tropical storm. This is when the storm is given a name and begins to pose a significant threat to coastal areas. However, it is not until the tropical storm reaches sustained winds of 74 miles per hour or more that it is classified as a hurricane.

damaged house following a hurricane
Hurricane Katrina caused wide-spread damage and loss of life in 2005

So why do hurricanes typically start at sea? The answer lies in the unique environmental conditions that exist over the warm, tropical waters of the ocean. The warm ocean water provides the necessary heat and moisture that fuel the storm, while the low-pressure system provides the atmospheric instability needed to sustain it.

As the storm grows and intensifies, it begins to spin due to the Earth's rotation, which creates a counterclockwise rotation in the Northern Hemisphere and a clockwise rotation in the Southern Hemisphere. This spinning motion, combined with the storm's forward movement, can cause the hurricane to travel great distances and pose a threat to coastal communities.

Hurricane damaged ship
A ship washed up by the immense forces of a hurricane

While hurricanes are a natural part of the Earth's climate system, their impact can be devastating. Strong winds, heavy rain, and storm surge can cause widespread damage to buildings, infrastructure, and crops, and can displace thousands of people from their homes. As such, it is important for coastal communities to be prepared for the potential threat of hurricanes by taking steps to protect themselves and their property.

In conclusion, hurricanes are powerful and complex natural phenomena that are fueled by a combination of heat, moisture, and atmospheric instability. They typically start at sea due to the unique environmental conditions that exist over warm, tropical waters, and can cause widespread damage and loss of life if not properly prepared for. By understanding the underlying causes of hurricanes, we can better prepare ourselves and our communities for these potentially catastrophic events.

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