WHAT IS A HURRICANE?

Hurricanes are large, swirling storms. They produce winds of 119 kilometers per hour (74 mph) or higher. Winds from a hurricane can cause damage to infrastructure and nature.

There are five types, or categories of hurricanes, the scale of categories is called the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale and are based on wind speed: 

  • Category 1: Winds 119-153 km/hr (74-95 mph) – faster than a cheetah
  • Category 2: Winds 154-177 km/hr (96-110 mph) – as fast or faster than a baseball pitcher’s fastball
  • Category 3: Winds 178-208 km/hr (111-129 mph) – similar, or close, to the serving speed of many professional tennis players
  • Category 4: Winds 209-251 km/hr (130-156 mph) – faster than the world’s fastest rollercoaster
  • Category 5: Winds more than 252 km/hr (157 mph) – similar, or close, to the speed of some high-speed train

How is a hurricane formed?

Hurricanes feed on the heat of the planet, which is generated by solar radiation mainly near the tropics, where the sun directly influences the surface including seas.

Hurricanes function as a thermodynamic machine and for this they need heat that they derive from the surface waters of tropical seas. That’s why forecasters think that as the seas warm, more energy is available for hurricane formation and development. This development is explained by the principle of Hadley convection cells, where hot air raises generating a low pressure and causing instability.

Precisely because of this, the areas where this phenomenon is most likely to generate are the tropics, which in addition to receiving more heat from the sun, are places where there are warm currents coming from the Equator, and cold ones coming from the Poles.

All these natural phenomena combined create strong wind currents and an exchange of energy between the atmosphere and the surface. In addition to this, the rotation of the earth generates the spiral that is explained by the so-called Coriolis effect, where the winds do not rise in a vertical form, but instead undergo a deviation that shapes the hurricane.

Once a hurricane forms, weather forecasters predict its path. They also predict how strong it will get. This information helps people get ready for the storm.

What Are the Parts of a Hurricane?

Hurricane parts
  • Eye: The eye is the “hole” at the center of the storm. Winds are light in this area. Skies are partly cloudy, and sometimes even clear.
  • Eye wall: The eye wall is a ring of thunderstorms. These storms swirl around the eye. The wall is where winds are strongest and rain is heaviest.
  • Rain bands: Bands of clouds and rain go far out from a hurricane’s eye wall. These bands stretch for hundreds of miles. They contain thunderstorms and sometimes tornadoes.

Not everything is destruction in a hurricane

Because of the speed of the winds, floods and other side effects, hurricanes can change the structure and function of ecological communities in just a few hours. However, not everything is harmful; as they do not impact the ecosystem uniformly, some areas are more affected than others, which promotes the regeneration of several species. Thus, hurricanes open new niches or ecological spaces in the ecosystem. In the jungles, the opening of a clearing allows light to enter the lower stratum of the vegetation. This leads to abrupt microclimatic changes that will be reflected in the species composition, whose dynamism through the exclusion or reduction of dominant species, promotes the increase in diversity.

While in the marine ecosystems, the force of the tide, the surge and the currents are the main threats that bring the hurricanes, in reefs, the magnitude of the damage is usually evaluated in sessile organisms, formed by the symbiotic relationship between corals and animals, which are responsible for forming coral structures. Here, deterioration is assessed by analyzing the loss of coral cover, although changes in the composition of other organisms such as sponges and soft corals and even the amount of free substrate in the form of rock or sand are included.

Another aspect about the impact on biota is that the most common species are the most affected, since they generally have the strategies of rapid population growth or better competitive strategies; but as a consequence, they may not invest energy in the formation of structures that provide greater rigidity and survival to the individual. On the other hand, it is worth emphasizing that this type of disturbance opens spaces that are a potential habitat for the deployment of new organisms. In fact, because of the frequency and intensity with which hurricanes occur, they are considered to help maintain the diversity of the environment by excluding or limiting dominant species and facilitating the establishment of others.

They also provide a balance in the world’s temperature, on average, throughout the year, the Earth’s equator receives more solar energy than any other latitude. This radiation heats the temperature of the ocean, which in turn heats the air above it, hurricanes play an important role in distributing this heat all over the planet, which also helps to balance the temperature between the poles and the Equator, otherwise, this area would be a lot hotter than usual.

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Jha, A. (2008, Jan 24). Hurricanes and global warming devastate Caribbean coral reefs. The Guardian.

NOAA. (2011). The only difference between a hurricane, a cyclone, and a typhoon is the location where the storm occurs.

Heron, S., Morgan, J., Eakin, M. & Skirving, W. (2005). Hurricanes and their effects on Coral Reefs (reporte de NOAA).

Dahlgren, E.J. (2005, 31 de enero). Arrecifes coralinos, huracanes y el cambio climático global

Álvarez Filip, Lorenzo y Bonilla Moheno, Martha. (2007). Arrecifes coralinos, selvas tropicales y huracanes. Ciencias 85, enero-marzo, 14-17.

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