What is a Hurricane?


Hurricanes are large spiraling tropical storms.  Depending on where you go in the world, they might also be known as cyclones or typhoons. Regardless of what you call them, these giant storms can be hundreds of miles wide and leave a large path of devastation in their wake due to high winds and flooding from storm surges.

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What is a Storm surge?


A storm surge is one of the dangers of hurricanes that most affects the coastlines and low-lying areas. It is a rising of sea levels and it can create extremely hazardous conditions along the beaches and for homes and businesses in those areas. Storm surges can cause the ocean waters to swell well beyond normal high tide lines and can increase the size of waves up to spectacular but deadly levels.

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Hurricane Stages

All hurricanes begin as tropical storms feeding on warm ocean temperatures.

  • Once a tropic storm reaches wind speeds of 38 miles, it becomes a tropical depression.
  • When it has sustained wind speeds of 39 miles or more, it becomes a tropical storm. This is when we give it a male or female name such as Hugo or Carla.
  • As soon as the tropical storm’s sustained wind speeds reach 74 miles, it then becomes a hurricane.
  • At this point, the hurricane will be given a rating based on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale.

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What is the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale?

This scale gives a hurricane a 1-5 rating based on its sustained wind speed. The scale helps us to determine how serious a hurricane might be and how much damage it is likely to cause.

There are five Saffir-Simpson Hurricane categories:

  • Category 1: Sustained wind speeds reach 74-95 miles per hour. This first category of hurricane can produce dangerous winds as well as some damage such as uprooting small trees, knocking down power lines and causing shingle damage to the roofs of homes.
  • Category 2: Sustained wind speeds for this category reach 96-110 miles per hour. Category two hurricanes come with extremely dangerous winds and are likely to cause extensive damage. Major roof and siding damage will occur and many trees may be uprooted or snapped. Power outages are highly likely.
  • Category 3: Sustained wind speeds reach 111-129 miles per hour, making this the first category for major hurricanes. These hurricanes can cause devastating damage such as the removal of roof decking. Power can sometimes take weeks to be restored after one of these storms.
  • Category 4: Sustained wind speeds reach 130-156 miles per hour. Category four hurricanes cause catastrophic damage. Buildings may lose their roofs as well as outer walls. Downed trees may make driving impossible for quite some time.
  • Category 5: The sustained wind speeds reach or surpass 157 miles per hour. Frame homes may be completely destroyed and roofs may collapse. This level of storm can make living conditions impossible for the following weeks and months.

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Hurricane Facts

  • Hurricanes spin around what we call the eye. The eye of a hurricane is its low-pressure center.
  • Some storm surges can be as much as twenty feet high.
  • The high winds from hurricanes may cause tornados to develop.
  • A hurricane can cause more than 2.4 trillion gallons of rain per day.
  • Hurricanes can be up to 600 miles wide.
  • These storms usually last more than a week.
  • The hurricanes that reach the United States move in a counter-clockwise direction. However, in the Southern Hemisphere, there move in the opposite direction.
  • Hurricanes require warm ocean water to form. Because of this, there are areas of the ocean in which they are much more likely to start.
  • Hurricanes are named by the World Meteorological Organization, which rotates through one of six different lists of names each year. If a storm ends up being particularly devastating, its name will be removed from the list so that it is not used again in the future.

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 Areas Most Commonly Affected

In the United States, you are far more likely to see a hurricane if you live in Florida, Texas or Louisiana. However, all coastal states have an increased risk.

Hurricane season for the Atlantic is June 1st to November 30th. For the Eastern Pacific, it goes from May 15th to November 30th.

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Hurricane Safety and Preparedness       

The best thing that you can do before a hurricane is prepare for it. Attempts at last minute preparations can be met with closed stores, empty shelves, long lines, fuel shortages, and packed highways.



  • Keep an eye on the weather channel. Meteorologists can inform you about storms well before they reach land. If you need to leave the area, it is better to leave early rather than being stuck in an evacuation traffic jam.
  • Have an emergency plan for where everyone should meet, where to go in the event of a hurricane, and how each member of the family will be getting there.
  • Create a supply kit to have with you. It should contain food, water, medication to cover at least a week, a first aid kit, clean clothing, a flashlight, a radio, batteries, maps, tools to turn off utilities, and hand wipes.
  • Have supplies available including sand bags and boards for the windows of homes and businesses.
  • Cover windows, let family members know where you are, and charge your cell phone if a hurricane warning has been issued.

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During a Hurricane

If you find yourself in the middle of a hurricane, don’t panic! There are still precautions that can be followed.

  • Beware of the calm in the eye of the hurricane. Just because the weather suddenly gets better does not mean that the storm is over. You may be in the center of it.
  • Stay away from windows.
  • Close storm shutters.
  • Stay away from beaches and low-lying areas near water.
  • Listen to the local weather forecast for updates.
  • Turn your refrigerator to its coldest setting so that it will remain cold for longer during a power outage.

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After a Hurricane

  • If you have evacuated, wait for the okay from authorities before you return home.
  • Check in with friends and family to make sure that everyone is safe.
  • When driving, watch out for debris and downed trees in roads. Be careful not to drive through flooded areas.
  • Avoid electrical hazards such as downed powerlines and floodwaters that may be electrically charged.
  • Assess the damage done to your home.

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 Activities and Experiments for Children and Teachers


 Additional Hurricane Information

Hurricane Safety and Information for Adults and Children