Hurricanes are known for their strong, swirling winds that can damage structures and cause deadly storm surges. While most hurricanes occur during the fall months, hurricanes are possible any time of year.
Here are some hurricane facts you should know to prepare yourself in the event one hits your region:
How Big Can Hurricanes Get?
Hurricanes are massive storms, covering up to 600 miles across and having strong winds that spiral inward and upward at speeds ranging from 75 mph to more than 200 mph. Hurricane duration depends on the size and intensity of the storm, but they can last anywhere from 12 hours to a week, moving at a slow speed of 10 to 20 mph over the ocean.
What Kind of Damage Can a Hurricane Cause?
The brute force of a hurricane, from heavy rain, strong winds, and large waves, can topple trees and damage buildings. Areas visited by a hurricane often experience an interruption in electric supply because of downed transmission and power lines.
Damage to life and property could be profound when there is prolonged electricity outage. Business and emergency facilities, such as hospitals, need temporary sources of electricity to stay operational. Organizations that cater to matters of life and death should have a standby industrial generator.
How Do Hurricanes Form?
Hurricanes gather energy and heat through contact with warm ocean waters, at temperatures of 80°F or warmer. The air above the ocean gets cooler the higher one goes. When the wind is blowing in the same direction with the same speed, it will force air upward from the surface of the ocean. When winds flow outward in the area above the storm, the air below rises.
The evaporation of seawater boosts the hurricane’s power. A hurricane rotates counterclockwise around the eye of the storm if it occurs in the Northern Hemisphere and moves in a clockwise direction if it occurs in the Southern Hemisphere. The eye of the storm, which is located in the center, is calm, with fair weather and light winds.
Most hurricanes form between 5 and 15 degrees latitude on either side of the equator. The Coriolis force, or the force that deflects objects to one side due to the rotation of the earth, creates the spinning of the hurricane. The Coriolis force gets weaker near the equator, which is why hurricanes do not form there.
What Are the Most Hurricane-Prone Areas in the U.S.?
Based on data for the past 100 years, these U.S. cities are at high risk for hurricanes.
- Miami, Florida – Miami tops the list of U.S. cities that are most likely to be hit by hurricanes. Based on storm data, a hurricane is expected to pass within 50 miles of the Miami area every 6 to 8 years. The city’s proximity to the Atlantic Ocean makes it especially vulnerable to hurricanes. Hurricane Irma hit the area around Miami in 2017 with great force.
- Key West, Florida – Key West has a 16 percent chance of being in the path of a hurricane during the Atlantic season. The Florida Keys are a group of about 1,700 islands that span 113 miles, with Key West at the chain’s southernmost tip. The city has an elevation of 18 feet above sea level and is highly susceptible to flooding and storm surges. Hurricane Irma devastated the area.
- Cape Hatteras, North Carolina – Cape Hatteras has about a 15 percent chance of being impacted by a hurricane each year. It is located 280 miles east of Palm Beach, Florida, placing it in the path of hurricanes that are moving up the country’s eastern seaboard. Cape Hatteras is close to the Gulf Stream, which has warm waters that strengthen hurricanes in the area.
- Tampa, Florida – The western part of the state of Florida has its share of hurricanes also. Tampa, which is located along Tampa Bay and the Gulf of Mexico, is vulnerable to hurricanes entering the Gulf. Tampa bore the brunt of Hurricane Irma in 2017.
- New Orleans, Louisiana – The city has an 11 percent chance of being hit by a hurricane each year. Katrina in 2005 dealt the city an unforgettable blow. The city can expect a hurricane at least once every 7 to 11 years.
- Houston, Texas – It is not normally high on the list of cities that are most prone to hurricane damage, but Hurricane Harvey changed that in 2017. The extensive damage and massive flooding in the city and its surrounding areas are among the worst this country has seen.
What Are the Worst Recent Hurricanes in U.S. History?
These hurricanes are some of the worst to have hit the States in the last two decades, with significant property damage, powerful winds and human tragedy.
- Katrina, 2005 – Hurricane Katrina was a Category 3 with 174 mph winds that swept through New Orleans and other parts of the Gulf Coast. Katrina claimed 1,833 lives and $161 billion in damages.
- Maria, 2017 – Hurricane Maria ravaged through Dominicana and the U.S. Virgin Islands before destroying Puerto Rico with 175 mph winds. The storm resulted in 3,057 fatalities and damages of $90 billion.
- Sandy, 2012 – Superstorm Sandy affected 24 states and all of the eastern seaboard, causing an estimated $70 billion in damages and 285 deaths. At the height of the hurricane, over 7.5 million people were without power.
- Harvey, 2017 – Hurricane Harvey was a Category 4 hurricane that ransacked Texas and Louisiana with catastrophic flooding. Damages amounted to $125 billion in cost and 68 fatalities.