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The Eye of the Storm

Updated: Nov 19, 2023


When you think of hurricanes, you think of slashing winds, torrential rainstorms, houses in shambles, and destruction.


For people living along the southern coast of the US, hurricanes are a dreadful reality during the summer months. These disasters can range anywhere from a small storm to over a foot of rain, winds over 100mph, and severe flooding.


Soon, hurricanes will become an issue not only for Americans living on the south coast of the US, but also for those living in the northern reaches of the country. Changes in our Earth’s climate will make these severe weather events even more powerful and deadly in the years to come.


Continue reading to learn more about what hurricanes are, how they form, and how human activity impacts hurricanes.


 

What are Hurricanes?


According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, a hurricane is a rotating, low pressure severe weather event. Hurricanes form over the ocean during the right conditions and are ranked by severity on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale.


This scale ranks hurricanes from 1–5 based on the speed of their winds. The following represent the 5 different categories on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale:


  • Category 1: 74–95 mph

  • Category 2: 96–110 mph

  • Category 3: 111–129 mph

  • Category 4: 130–156 mph

  • Category 5: 157+ mph


If a storm is classified as category 3 or above, it is considered a major hurricane and it is highly recommended for people to evacuate their homes. Category 1 and 2 hurricanes are not as severe and therefore do not cause as much damage.


Some storms never reach hurricane status and are either called tropical storms or tropical depressions. Tropical storm winds range from 39–73 mph and tropical depression winds are 38 mph or lower. Although these storms are not considered hurricanes, they can easily develop into one before making landfall and become dangerous very quickly.


Where do Hurricanes come from?



There are a couple of ingredients needed for a hurricane to form: warm air, humidity, hot water, and wind. Ocean water must be at least 79 degrees Fahrenheit for a hurricane to form. If ocean water does not meet this temperature requirement, it will not be able to evaporate to form a hurricane. In addition, hurricanes almost always form near the equator and curve northward due to the Coriolis Effect.


Steps for hurricane formation:


  1. Warm air rises and creates a region of low pressure near the surface of the ocean.

  2. Air from nearby high pressure areas moves to fill the region of low pressure.

  3. The high pressure air warms at the surface of the ocean and rises.

  4. Air cools and forms clouds.


As this process repeats itself, newly formed clouds begin to rotate as warm air rises from the surface of the ocean. Winds blowing across the ocean fuel the growth of the storm, allowing it to spin faster and faster as it travels across the ocean.


A hurricane has multiple vertical columns that are called rain bands, which release rain at high speeds. In the center is the eye, a strange circle of calm amongst a churning mass of water and clouds.


Global winds are the last piece of the puzzle. They’re responsible for pushing hurricanes toward land. Once a hurricane makes landfall, it has the potential to destroy towns and cities, leaving carnage in its wake until it eventually loses speed and momentum.


Effects of Climate Change on Hurricanes


Since hurricane formation is highly dependent on water conditions, it makes sense that climate change can impact these events. Climate change is predicted to challenge everything we think we know about hurricanes within the next century.


Studies conducted by the IPCC show that category 4 and 5 hurricanes are set to increase in frequency in future years. Almost 90% of the world’s heat is absorbed by our oceans. As ocean temperatures rise due to climate change, hurricane season may lengthen to the point where only a few months out of the year are safe for coastal residents.


In addition, climate change contributes to rising sea levels. Flooding will become much more common and destructive. Rebuilding after a hurricane will become twice as arduous and costly since flooding will take longer to abate. Also, rescuing humans and animals during floods will be twice as difficult as it currently is.


Human Impact on Climate Change



Climate change, as many may know, is mainly caused by humans. Decades of using fossil fuels have released dangerous aerosols into the air. On top of this, our rapidly growing population continues to put significant strain on Earth’s natural resources.


Carbon emissions have reached unprecedented levels due to the excessive burning of fossil fuels in both the transportation and manufacturing industries. Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas, meaning it prevents heat from exiting the atmosphere. This process is one of the main contributors to global warming and the reason our oceans are rising in temperature.


Deforestation is becoming a huge issue as more and more companies are beginning to produce paper products. Millions of acres of trees are cut down each year to produce paper for human consumption. Trees help us regulate our carbon dioxide emissions by converting it into oxygen through photosynthesis. Cutting down trees will only exacerbate the effects of climate change, contributing to rising ocean temperatures.


Carbon emissions, deforestation, and other human actions are rapidly speeding up the process of climate change. Climate change, in turn, makes severe weather events such as hurricanes more deadly.


The Latest Hurricanes


Hurricane season usually falls between June and November each year, with the peak of the season being September. Summer 2023 has boasted 2 high intensity hurricanes: Hurricane Hilary and Hurricane Idalia.


Hurricane Hilary


Category 4 Hurricane Hilary started its path of destruction through Mexico and the Southwestern United States on August 16th, 2023. Although the fatality rate for this storm was relatively low, it caused $126 million in damage.


During the summer months, California is often in period of drought due to extremely low levels of rainfall and scorching temperatures. As a result of this, the ground becomes hard and less permeable. These types of environments have the perfect conditions for flooding since the ground struggles to absorb excessive amounts of water.


This problem became a reality when Hurricane Hilary dumped 3–4 inches of rain on Southern California, almost matching the average annual rainfall total for the region. In some areas such as San Jacinto, Hilary dropped almost 12 inches of rain. The hardened ground, unused to this level of moisture, failed to absorb the water, resulting in severe flooding and mudslides.


Thousands were warned to evacuate to avoid these disasters, especially in urban areas. Homes and streets were completely flooded, destroying personal possessions, furniture, and vehicles. Various roads were blocked from huge mud and rock slides, preventing people from evacuating the region.


Although some Californians had been hoping for rain during the dry season, they got more than they wished for.


Hurricane Idalia


Hurricane Idalia formed on August 26th, 2023 and made landfall in Florida on August 30th. Idalia formed in the Pacific region and gained power as it traveled east through the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico, eventually becoming a category 4 hurricane. However, when Idalia hit Keaton Beach, it had dwindled to a category 3 hurricane.


Eastern and Northern Florida were hit hardest by Idalia with tens of thousands of homes flooded and severely damaged. As the storm made its way up the eastern coast of the US into the Carolinas, it displaced more than 10,000 people from their homes.


Hurricane Idalia knocked down countless power lines, plunging over 300,000 people into darkness in Florida and Georgia. Winds reached 130 mph, uprooting trees and scattering debris across the southeastern region of the US.


Overall, Idalia caused $12–20 billion dollars worth of damage and uprooted the lives of hundreds of thousands of people. If a category 3 hurricane was this devastating, think about the damage a category 5 hurricane has the capacity to inflict.


Hurricane Safety



There are various ways to protect yourself before, during, and after a hurricane.


In order to prevent extensive damage to your home, purchase storm shutters and seal cracks to prevent water from flooding your home. Board up windows to keep them from breaking and letting rain and debris inside your home. Make sure to bring any outdoor plants inside to avoid them getting knocked over or destroyed.


Additionally, stocking up on emergency items like a first aid kit, bandages, flashlights, food, and water is necessary when facing these tremendous storms. Make sure you have a battery pack handy to keep your phone charged and stay updated on the latest news. If you experience any flooding during a hurricane, get to higher ground to prevent getting swept up in fast-moving waters.


When emerging from your home after a hurricane, be aware of your surroundings in order to avoid any downed power lines or sharp pieces of debris that can injure you.


 

Recap

Hurricanes are disastrous severe weather events that occur between June and November each year. They normally form when ocean temperatures rise, creating a swirling vortex of clouds and water. Climate change is only making hurricanes occur more frequently and with greater intensity. Some of the most recent examples of this are Hurricane Hilary and Hurricane Idalia which impacted hundreds of thousands of people across the US.


Thanks for reading! If you liked this blog, check out our other blogs and follow us on our social media platforms to stay tuned.






Author: Ann Catechis

Editor: Emma Mazzotta


References

  1. NOAA

  2. Britannica

  3. History.com

  4. CBS

  5. US Department of State Archive

  6. Vox

  7. C2ES

  8. National Geographic

  9. Hurricanescience. com

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