Weather Forecasting

How does a hurricane form?
Answered by HowStuffWorks
  • HowStuffWorks

    HowStuffWorks

  1. Hurricanes come into being when a number of factors all come together at the same time. When tropical winds converge in a moist area over warm seawater, they result in clusters of thunderstorms -- called tropical disturbances -- that form the seeds for a hurricane. As these thunderstorms build in intensity, they release latent heat and a cycle of condensation and evaporation makes them grow even more powerful. A natural phenomenon called the Coriolis force then pulls the storms into a rotation cycle. This process causes the warm and cold air inside the storm to begin an upward cycle, pulling in moisture, which then leads to even more heat being released. The net result of all of these storms working together at once is what we refer to as a hurricane.

    Hurricanes, once formed, grow less predictable the "older" they get. They begin in the Atlantic Ocean. As they reach the equator, trade winds pick them up and push them toward the U.S. The trade winds blow consistently westward, so there aren't too many surprises in the hurricane path at this point. Once the hurricane reaches around 25 to 30 degrees latitude (the top of Florida is at about 30 degrees), local winds take over. The local winds have patterns, such as the eastward-blowing jet stream that so often pushes hurricanes up the Eastern Seaboard. However, the local winds are highly influenced by the local weather of the moment. Therefore, despite traditional patterns, hurricanes can get blown in all sorts of directions once they come close to the U.S.

    It may come as no surprise that there are efforts to find ways to control hurricanes before they can become deadly mainland forces. Microsoft founder and world-famous multi-billionaire Bill Gates, alongside climate scientist Ken Caldeira, in 2009 filed patents that describe using barges to blast cold water into the path of hurricanes. The idea is to deprive hurricanes of the warm surface water they use to gather strength [source: USA Today]. While that would certainly be amazing, and welcome, if it worked, the approach has its doubters, who cite the engineering difficulties involved and the fact that there is more to a hurricane than just its love of warm surface water [source: Ostro].

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