Interested in extreme weather events? Then a hurricane—a swirling mass of wind, rain, thunder, and chaos—will intrigue you. Hurricanes begin over tropical and subtropical ocean water. They start when warm water, moist air, and strong winds collide and create a rotating bundle of thunderstorms and clouds. A hurricane might last a few hours or several days.
The first Northeast Pacific hurricane of 2000, Aletta, was spinning 300 miles (482 kilometers) off the coast of Mexico with sustained winds of 80 miles (128 kilometers) per hour and gusts up to 100 miles (160 kilometers) per hour.
Photograph by SeaWiFS Project, NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center, and ORBIMAGE
This NOAA Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite (GOES) image shows Hurricane Floyd just off the Florida coast on September 14, 1999. With hurricane-force winds extending 125 miles (201 kilometers) from the storm's eye and sustained winds up to 140 miles (225 kilometers) per hour, Floyd threatened coastal areas in Southeastern states, forcing many evacuations, including NASA's Kennedy Space Center.
Photograph by Marit Jentoft-Nilsen, NASA GSFC Visualization Analysis Lab
Waters whipped up by Hurricane Gloria smash against the Rodanthe Pier in North Carolina. The Atlantic Ocean's hurricane season peaks from mid-August to late October and averages five to six hurricanes per year.
Photograph by David Alan Harvey
At the time this image was taken on September 14, 2003, Hurricane Isabel was packing maximum sustained winds of 155 miles (250 kilometers) per hour, making it a rare and powerful Category 5 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane scale.
Photograph by Jacques Descloitres, MODIS Rapid Response Team, NASA/GSFC
How Hurricanes Form
Some hurricanes roar onto land bringing punishing wind, torrential rain, walls of water, even tornados. The wind, rain, and water surge wreak havoc on the coastline and damage hundreds of miles inland.
Violent winds flip cars, sink boats, and rip houses apart. Hurricane winds range from 74 miles an hour to 150 miles an hour or more. Wind creates high waves and pushes the water onto shore. The water surge can be 30 feet high. That's as high as a 3-story building. Storm surges cause most of the fatalities and damage.
In addition to the storm surge, hurricanes bring rain. Lots of rain. In 2009, a storm hammered Taiwan with 114 inches of rain in only three days. Hurricane rains cause landslides, flash floods, and long-term floods.
Because meteorologists can predict and track hurricanes, people living in a hurricane's path can stay safe by advance preparation, including an evacuation plan, creating an emergency kit with food, water, and other supplies (don't forget your pets), and most importantly by listening to local authorities on the best ways to stay safe.
The eye can be 20-40 miles wide. In the eye, rather than dark clouds and rain, one might see blue sky or a starry night. It's known as the calm center of the storm.
The clouds that swirl around the eye have the most intense rain and winds, sometimes as fast as 200 miles an hour.
The rain and wind come in heavy bursts in this region and spiral in toward the eyewall. Rain bands are the outside areas of a storm and can be found as far as a few hundred miles from the eye.