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What is a Hurricane?

Hurricane Information

Worldwide, tropical cyclone activity peaks in late summer when the difference between temperatures aloft and at sea surface are the greatest. However, each particular water basin has its own seasonal patterns. On a worldwide scale, May is the least active month, while September is the most active.

In the North Atlantic, a distinct hurricane season occurs from June 1 to November 30, sharply peaking from late August through September. The statistical peak of the North Atlantic hurricane season is September 10. The Northeast Pacific has a broader period of activity, but in a similar time frame to the Atlantic. The Northwest Pacific sees tropical cyclones year-round, with a minimum in February and a peak in early September. In the North Indian basin, storms are most common from April to December, with peaks in May and November.

In the Southern Hemisphere, tropical cyclone activity begins in late October and ends in May. Southern Hemisphere activity peaks in mid-February to early March.

Tropical cyclone is the meteorological term for a type of storm system characterized by a low pressure center and thunderstorms, producing strong wind and flooding rain. A tropical cyclone feeds on the heat released when moist air rises and the water vapor condenses. The adjective "tropical" refers to both the geographic origin of these systems, which form almost exclusively in tropical regions of the globe, and their formation in tropical, or more precisely, 'maritime tropical' air masses. The term "Cyclone" refers to such storms' cyclonic nature, with counterclockwise rotation in the Northern Hemisphere and clockwise rotation in the Southern Hemisphere. Tropical cyclones are distinguished from other cyclonic windstorms such as nor'easters, European windstorms, and polar lows by the heat mechanism that fuels them, which makes them "warm core" storm systems. Depending on their location and strength, there are various terms by which tropical cyclones are known, such as hurricane, typhoon, tropical storm, cyclonic storm, and tropical depression.

Tropical cyclones can produce extremely strong and powerful winds, tornadoes, torrential rain, high waves, and storm surge. They are born and sustained over large bodies of warm water, and lose their strength over land. This is the reason coastal regions can receive significant damage from a tropical cyclone, while inland regions are relatively safe from receiving strong winds. Heavy rains, however, can produce significant flooding inland, and storm surges can produce extensive coastal flooding up to 25 mi (40 km) inland. Although their effects on human populations can be devastating, tropical cyclones can also relieve drought conditions. They carry heat away from the tropics, an important mechanism of the global atmospheric circulation that helps maintain equilibrium in the Earth's troposphere.

Many tropical cyclones develop when the atmospheric conditions around a weak disturbance in the atmosphere are favorable. Others form when other types of cyclones acquire tropical characteristics. Tropical systems are then moved by steering winds in the troposphere; if the conditions remain favorable, the tropical disturbance intensifies, and can develop an eye. On the other end of the spectrum, if the conditions around the system deteriorate, or the tropical cyclone makes landfall, the system weakens and dissipates. A tropical depression is an organized system of clouds and thunderstorms with a defined surface circulation and maximum sustained winds of less than 17 m/s (33 kt, 38 mph, or 62 km/h). It has no eye and does not typically have the organization or the spiral shape of more powerful storms. However, it is already a low-pressure system, hence the name "depression." The practice of the Philippines is to name tropical depressions from their own naming convention when the depressions are within the Philippines' area of responsibility.

A tropical storm is an organized system of strong thunderstorms with a defined surface circulation and maximum sustained winds between 17 and 32 m/s (34?63 kt, 39?73 mph, or 62?117 km/h). At this point, the distinctive cyclonic shape starts to develop, although an eye is not usually present. Government weather services, other than the Philippines, first assign names to systems that reach this intensity (thus the term named storm).

A hurricane or typhoon (sometimes simply referred to as a tropical cyclone, as opposed to a depression or storm) is a system with sustained winds of at least 33 m/s (64 kt, 74 mph, or 118 km/h). A cyclone of this intensity tends to develop an eye, an area of relative calm (and lowest atmospheric pressure) at the center of circulation. The eye is often visible in satellite images as a small, circular, cloud-free spot. Surrounding the eye is the eyewall, an area about 16 to 80 km (10 to 50mi) wide in which the strongest thunderstorms and winds circulate around the storm's center. Maximum sustained winds in the strongest tropical cyclones have been estimated at about 85 m/s (165 kt, 190 mph, 305 km/h).

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