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www.about.com and www.usatoday.com/weather Hurricanes are one of nature’s most amazing yet destructive phenomenon. The word hurricane comes from Huracan, the name of a Caribbean god of evil. Certainly people living in tropical areas such as the Caribbean know the awesome power and the terrible destruction that a hurricane can bring. People living in the path of a developing hurricane know to take every safety precaution, for hurricanes can be truly devastating.
Hurricane season lasts from June 1 to November 30 in the Atlantic, Caribbean, Gulf of Mexico, and Central Pacific. In the Eastern Pacific hurricane season begins earlier, on May 15. During this time, the weather and water are warm and conditions are right for the birth of a hurricane.
A hurricane begins when the hot sun evaporates a large amount of seawater. As the warm, moist air rises into the sky, an area of very low pressure is created. The surrounding air is sucked in quickly to replace the rising air. This movement of air causes a whirlpool of warm, moist air. The air spirals around the calm center, called the eye of the storm.
When the whirlpool of air has just begun, and the winds are not yet very fast, forecasters call this a tropical depression. Tropical depressions are given numbers, and many form during hurricane season. Many times these tropical depressions do not get stronger, and they eventually die out in the sea. If a tropical depression intensifies and winds reach an average of 39 m.p.h., the depression is called a tropical storm, and it is given a name.
If the storm continues to grow and winds reach 74 m.p.h., the storm is officially called a hurricane.
Hurricanes are classified by name and category by meteorologists. Before hurricane season begins, a list of names is made for that year’s possible hurricanes. The list is in alphabetical order, and forecasters go down the list as new tropical storms are formed. Hurricanes are also classified by categories as to their strength. The categories are based on wind speed as follows:
Category 1: winds 74-95 m.p.h.
Category 2: winds 96-110 m.p.h.
Category 3: winds 111-130 m.p.h.
Category 4: winds 131-155 m.p.h.
Category 5: winds over 155 m.p.h.
There were only two category 5 hurricanes that struck the United States in the 20th century. One of these hurricanes hit the Florida Keys in 1935, and the other, Hurricane Camille, hit the Mississippi gulf coast in 1969. These hurricanes destroyed almost everything in their path.
There are 3 main causes of damage from a hurricane:
1) Storm Surge:The storm surge is the dome of water at the center of the hurricane caused by the area of low pressure. When the hurricane makes landfall, the surge floods the coastal areas very quickly. A storm surge can flood the land with anywhere from 3 to 20 feet of water, depending on the strength of the hurricane. About 90% of all deaths are caused by the storm surge.
2) Wind Damage: The winds inside of a hurricane are so powerful that they will destroy homes and buildings even far inland of coastal areas.
3) Freshwater Flooding: When the hurricane reaches land, it dumps so much rain over a large area over a short amount of time that rivers and streams overflow. People who are not cautious may lose their homes or their lives when a flood rises quickly.