Hurricanes!

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Hurricane Hermine over Florida

Hurricane Hermine over Florida

Last week, Hurricane Hermine roared up from the Gulf of Mexico to dump rain on Florida’s west coast and panhandle. The National Hurricane Center (NHC) noticed the first signs of a storm on August 13 off of the coast of West Africa. By August 30th, the NHC had issued storm warnings for the Gulf of Mexico. Governor Rick Scott declared states of emergency for 51 Florida counties in advance of the hurricane’s landfall to ensure federal response as soon as possible if there was severe damage.

The largest problem from Hermine was the rainfall. Fortunately, the Hurricane 1 storm—the mildest type—was quickly downgraded to a tropical storm after it hit land. However, it still brought a large amount of rain over the Labor Day weekend, as it moved upward toward the Carolinas. As far as Long Island, New York, people experienced rainfall attributed to the storm. Near the same time as Hurricane Hermine, Hawaii was facing not one but two hurricanes: Lester and Madeline. Luckily, neither of those storms made contact with the islands. However, the U.S. is still in hurricane season, which runs from July through November.

Now is a great time to learn more about these powerful weather events.

What is a Hurricane?

Hurricanes are cyclones that form over the warm tropics. A low pressure storm system generates strong winds that swirl around the “eye” of the storm. When winds reach over  30 miles per hour, the weather system is classified as a tropical storm. Keeping a look out for just these kinds of conditions, the HNC issues warnings to areas in the storm’s projected path. If winds reach 74 miles per hour or higher, the storm is classified as a hurricane.

Hurricane Categories

Hurricanes are categorized from level 1 to level 5, with 5 as the strongest. See the description of the categories from the National Hurricane Center below:

hurricane-scale

Hurricane Wind Scale

Even when the winds die down, the rain can cause severe flooding. In addition, a hurricane can bring a high storm surge, or a rising mass of seawater, that can worsen the flooding along the coast.

Be Prepared

Modern technology and weather satellites allow meteorologists to forecast, or predict, severe weather. Forecasts provide ample warning in advance of hurricanes. When a tropical storm or hurricane warning is issued by the NHC, residents must be prepared. FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, provides tips of what to do before and after a hurricane here. In some cases, residents may be asked to evacuate, especially in low lying areas along the coast in the path of the hurricane.

Residents in the storm’s path are advised to board up windows as the winds could blow them in, and people should stock up on supplies, such as bottled water and canned food. Electricity is often disrupted during hurricanes and it can take a while before power is restored, so a gas-powered electricity generator may be helpful, too.

America’s Most Costly Hurricanes
fema_-_16079_-_photograph_by_win_henderson_taken_on_09-20-2005_in_louisiana

Damage to the Ninth Ward in New Orleans after Katrina

Several hurricanes of recent times have caused devastation and caused billions and billions of dollars in damage, combined. Hurricane Katrina is the most costly storm in U.S. history. It hit the Gulf Coast in 2005 and pummeled New Orleans in particular. The estimated economic cost of Katrina is $125 billion. Hurricane Sandy, known as the “Superstorm,” hit New Jersey and affected dozens of states in 2012. This storm caused $65 billion in economic losses, the second highest cost behind Katrina.

If you subscribe to Maps101 and have access to the Field Trip Library, check out the “Hurricanes & Tornadoes” Field Trip in the Weather & Science collection. There is also a Field Trip on “Extreme Weather” in the same collection that may be of interest, too.

Hermine Image Source: NASA
Hermine Image License: Public Domain

Katrina Image Source: FEMA
Image License: Public Domain