12 Hard Facts About Hurricanes and Their Environmental Impact

Scientists are discovering new facts about hurricanes every year, to help us better predict how these storms behave. Hurricanes are complicated storms that both damage and benefit local ecosystems, and researchers will need to study them to better understand their nature in the future.

Although many people have heard about hurricanes, few people know many facts about hurricanes and how they form. There are several facts about hurricanes that can help you reduce the damage to your home though if you know them. They can also help shape environments and natural habitats as often as they can destroy homes and ecosystems.

How To Define A Hurricane

Hurricanes begin as wind over the Atlantic Ocean or Caribbean. The warm environment over the Atlantic causes the wind pressure to build, and it slowly gathers moisture from the ocean below. The warm air rises in the center of the storm called the eye and falls away toward the outward edges. This cycle causes the storm to increase in size as it approaches the shore.

Meteorologists have a system for naming hurricanes. The World Meteorological Organization names hurricanes using a list of 21 names. The names follow an alphabetical system from A to Z. The letters Q, U, X, Y, and Z are not used. When they’ve used every name on the list, the list repeats. They can also replace a name on the list, and restart the cycle every seven years.

Hurricanes have five parts; the eye, the eye wall, the storm surge, outflow, and feeder bands. The eye and eye wall are relatively calm, as warm air is forced up and away from ground level. The outflow refers to the clouds moving outward from the eye, as the warm air slowly cools and descends.

The most dangerous parts of a hurricane are the storm surges and feeder bands. The feeder bands refer to the rain and storms caught between ascending warm air and descending cold air. The storm surge refers to flooding and waves created by the hurricane’s movement and internal spin.

Hurricanes Are Defined By Size

When one of these oceanic storms begins, it is a Tropical Depression with winds below 39 miles per hour. Once the winds pass 39 mph, it is considered a Tropical Storm. Once the winds of the storm reach 74 mph, it is classified as a hurricane. Hurricanes above 110 mph are considered Major Hurricanes,  extremely dangerous storms that are Category 3 or above.

What Do Hurricane Categories Mean?

A Category 1 hurricane has speeds between 74 mph and 95 mph. Category 2 hurricanes have speeds from 96 to 110 mph. One of the most important facts about hurricanes is the separation of Class 2 and Class 3 hurricanes. From this point forward, the winds become severe enough to break trees and man-made buildings.

Category 3 hurricanes have speeds from 111 mph to 129 mph. Trees, cars, and other dangerous and heavy objects can be destroyed or moved simply by the hurricane’s winds. Category 4 hurricanes have wind speeds of 130 to 156 mph. Category 5 hurricanes have winds higher than 156 mph, which can cause even the sturdiest homes and structures to collapse.

When Are Hurricanes Dangerous?

The US’ Atlantic and Gulf shores experience an average of six hurricanes a year. Hurricane season is considered June 1st through November 30. September is the most active month for hurricanes, and though their frequency especially increases during August and September. These facts about hurricanes are changing constantly.

What Are The Most Dangerous Elements Of A Hurricane?

You experience winds at a minimum of 74 miles per hour during a hurricane. Imagine trying to stand your ground on top of a car moving over seventy miles per hour. And while you are at risk of being pushed over, the much greater risk comes from flying debris pushed around by these storms.

Even at the lowest speeds, hurricane winds can break glass, wooden splinters, and other small items. These items are then tossed about as dangerous, and possibly lethal weapons. Hurricanes Category 3 or above have winds of 110 mph or more. Winds at that speed can snap large trees in half, and break even walls or sturdy man-made structures.

Areas not directly struck by hurricanes can still sustain heavy damage. Hurricanes raise water levels along the coast and can raise water levels in rivers and streams dozens of miles away from the shore. The storm causes blockages and backups in waterways that can damage land, farms, and homes due to flooding in areas where the hurricane isn’t even visible.

When Do Hurricanes Lose Ferocity?

Hurricanes are sustained by water vapors rising from the ocean, and the warm, pressurized air above the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico. When hurricanes reach land, they are separated from their source of water and air currents. Some hurricanes lose their speed and ferocity within hours, while others survive, and stay near the coast or pass into the Atlantic again to do more damage.

How Hurricanes Impact The Environment

The scary facts about hurricanes is that they can completely destroy human towns and societies. The same is true for ecosystems. Lesser islands in the Caribbean have sunk under a single hurricane, causing the extinction of entire species. But lesser hurricanes and tropical storms can also help to sustain ecosystems and provide food and nutrients for some flora and fauna, as well.

Hurricanes Can Help Natural Environments

Many animals have adapted to fierce storms. The strong tides can carry aquatic animals to new environments, helping species to spread to new ecosystems and diversify. Some animals that create burrows, like snakes, can also benefit as their burrows act as natural traps for prey. The storm forces potential prey closer to them, making hunting easier.

The strong winds from hurricanes can also be integral to breeding for some creatures. Warm water promotes breeding in Gopher frogs and spade foot toads. As for flora, orchid plants use the strong winds from a hurricane to spread their seeds across wide stretches of the countryside. It also spreads nutrients and fresh soil across the coastline, helping local flora to thrive.

Major Hurricanes Can Also Annihilate Ecosystems

To add to more facts about hurricanes, doesn’t always benefit animals and plant life. While some animals with coastal habitats benefit from hurricanes, species like sea turtles can have their eggs and nests destroyed by rising tides. Deep ocean creatures, like dolphins, can also be forced close to the coastline where they may wash ashore and die.

Trees that survive strong hurricanes may be defoliated, as the winds rip away leaves necessary for photosynthesis. These plants can’t produce enough food or energy, and slowly die after the storm.  They can also disrupt the migration patterns of birds and may be deadly to avians passing through the area during hurricane season.

Human Hazards Can Make Hurricanes Worse For Wildlife

Another one of the facts about hurricanes is that strong winds, like those of a Category 5 hurricane, can also snap trees and rip foliage from the soil with ease. Seawater and sediment can wash ashore, blocking sunlight that coral and plants need to survive. And with the introduction of man-made hazards, like power lines, hurricanes have become even more dangerous to ecosystems.

A downed power line may electrocute flooded areas, for example, killing all the fish and aquatic wildlife close to a shoreline. Alligators and predators of the Gulf may be forced closer to human settlements, where authorities are forced to execute them. And pollutants washing ashore in a hurricane may kill ground animals and contaminate local water sources.

What Areas Are Affected By Hurricanes?

The Coriolis Effect is necessary for hurricanes to form. As a result, hurricanes can only form and sustain themselves within five degrees north or south of the equator. However, the storm surge caused by hurricanes can reach coastlines hundreds of miles away from the hurricane itself. The facts about hurricanes have serious detrimental effect on humankind.

Primary Impact Areas

Tropical storms that come from the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean are known as hurricanes. Hurricanes most often proceed westward, gathering power close to Africa before striking North or South America. Tropical storms that affect the Pacific are known as typhoons, and tropical storms in the Indian Ocean are known as cyclones.

Islands in the Caribbean and Atlantic are especially at risk. Because hurricanes feed on the warm Atlantic waters, they can strike islands with full force. They may encircle the entire island, feeding off the waters around it to maintain their power. They then pass onto the ocean again, regaining their strength or becoming even stronger.

Secondary Impact Areas

The rain from hurricanes striking the East Coast of the United States can reach the Appalachian Mountains in a diminished form. The rise in water levels from a hurricane striking the Gulf of Mexico can affect rivers up to the west side of the Appalachian Mountains. A hurricane hitting the East Coast can raise rivers and fill flood zones up to the east side of the Appalachians.

Hurricanes can lessen to tropical storms within hours, possibly before they’ve passed ten miles inland. But although they lose their classification as hurricanes, these storms can move far into the center of the US, or pass over Texas and far midwestern areas. Most of the US, Central America, and the northern end of South America are at risk of some degree of rainfall from them. These facts about hurricanes should not be taken lightly.