- from Extreme Weather
“The wind rushed into the building. In one swift, sharp move, the roof was ripped apart, rafters and all, and exploded into the air, disappearing into the storm…. Pieces of wood sheared off lampposts and snapped palm trees like giant power saws.”
That’s the power of wind. This person was talking about Hurricane Luis. It tore through the Caribbean island of St. Martin in 1995. But he could have been talking about any big storm. About 85 hurricane-like storms form around the world most years. Hurricanes and other wind-driven storms, like tornadoes, are some of nature’s most destructive events.
◀ Hurricanes are huge storms in the Atlantic and Northeast Pacific Oceans. In the Northwest Pacific, they are called typhoons. They’re cyclones in the South Pacific and Indian Oceans. Scientists call them all tropical cyclones. That’s because they form in warm tropical waters near the equator. Each is made up of tightly coiled bands of clouds. Those bands spin around a very calm center. The center is called the eye.
▲ In October 2012, Hurricane Sandy tore apart a lot of the Caribbean. Then it moved on to the U.S. and caused about $60 million in damage. At its peak, Sandy was 1,000 miles wide. It killed more than 100 people in 10 states. In coastal New York and New Jersey, Sandy destroyed entire communities.
▲ Flying debris isn’t the only wind-driven problem in a hurricane. High winds also push ocean water ashore. Called a storm surge, that massive wave is the deadliest part of a hurricane. In 2005, Hurricane Katrina’s storm surge reached at least 30 feet high. That was a record for the U.S. coastline. The mix of heavy rain, wind, and storm surge was too much for the levees meant to keep New Orleans dry. The low-lying city flooded. Thousands were stranded.
Check It Out!
Why do hurricanes get people’s names, such as Dennis and Katrina?
During World War II, U.S. military pilots tracked hurricanes. The first pilot to spot a storm got to name it. Most used the names of their wives or children. In 1953, weather forecasters picked up the system of naming storms. At first, they used only female names. In 1979, they began using male names, too.
◀ The deadliest of all U.S. natural disasters struck Galveston, Texas, in 1900. At least 8,000 people died in the Galveston hurricane. Most died due to severe flooding.
Tropical storms are hurricanes in the making. Their winds blow between 39 and 73 miles per hour. If winds reach 74 mph, scientists use the Saffir-Simpson Scale to measure how strong the hurricane is.
Storm Surge: 4–5 ft.
Wind Speed: 74–75 mph
Storm Surge: 6–8 ft.
Wind Speed: 96–110 mph
Storm Surge: 9–12 ft.
Wind Speed: 111–130 mph
Storm Surge: 13–18 ft.
Wind Speed: 131–155 mph
Storm Surge: Over 18 ft.
Wind Speed: Over 155 mph