How Do Hurricanes Form?

Every year, major storms cause major problems around the world. There’s nothing people can do to stop the powerful forces of nature. But new techniques are helping scientists to predict how, when, and where the big ones will occur.

How do scientists predict a hurricane?

Predictions are improving. Nevertheless, there’s plenty left to learn. Even when scientists can figure out where a storm is headed, winds can change at the last minute, carrying the storm in a new direction. Scientists predict hurricanes with the help of computer simulations, or models, and knowledge of the past. Scientists have been collecting data about storms for decades. They’ve noticed patterns that suggest what it takes for a strong storm to form in the first place.

Hurricane formation

Storms develop over tropical waters in different parts of the world. For a hurricane to get organized, ‘conditions have to be just right’. First, the ocean water needs to be warm enough so that the winds can take up water through evaporation, which rises into the air. As it rises, the vapor cools and turns back into liquid. This process releases heat and it drives the formation of a hurricane.

If wind speeds inside the swirling mass reach 40 miles per hour, the system is classified as a ‘tropical storm’, and it gets a name. At 75 miles per hour, it becomes a hurricane. On average, 60 or 70 storms form off Africa every year. About 10 of them get names and are capable of wrecking havoc.

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