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What causes hurricanes?

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Quick Answer

Hurricanes are formed by rain clouds that grow over warm ocean waters. The clouds build to create wind speeds higher than 74 miles per hour. While tornadoes can attack without warning, hurricanes form over a period of days.

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Full Answer

The strength of a hurricane and its ranking on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale are determined by the storm's speed. The most dangerous kind of hurricane is a Category 5, which causes winds greater than 157 miles per hour. The storm surge of a hurricane is the most devastating part because a water wall that is 100 miles wide and 15 feet deep covers the coastline once the hurricane hits.

From June 1 to November 30, the Atlantic hurricane season is the period of the most dangerous storms that threaten the United States. The storms usually cause damage in the southeastern United States, Gulf of Mexico coastlines and Caribbean region. In the middle of May, the East Pacific hurricane season begins, and storms wreak havoc from Hawaii to western Mexico. Stretching from Florida and eastern Texas to the northeastern United States is an area known as Hurricane Alley. Hurricanes are given names in alphabetical order and change between male and female names. All letters are used except Q, U, X, Y and Z.

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  • Q:

    How are hurricanes made?

    A:

    Hurricanes are made when tropical storms form over sections of the ocean with warm, moist air and enough wind to begin a spiral. The primary cause is the latent heat from water evaporating off the surface of the ocean, which causes atmospheric imbalances that can increase wind speeds to hurricane levels. These can be higher than 150 miles an hour around the hurricane's eye.

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  • Q:

    How fast do hurricanes move?

    A:

    According to the National Center for Atmospheric Research, external winds can propel hurricanes across the ocean at sustained speeds of between 10 and 20 mph. Internally, hurricanes' wind speed is considerably higher.

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    Where do hurricanes come from?

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    Hurricanes form in the open ocean, with the majority coming together in the western Pacific Ocean or the eastern Atlantic, off the coast of Africa. A smaller number form in the Gulf of Mexico or the Indian Ocean each year. Hurricanes require calm, warm ocean waters to set up the convective current that gives the storm its rotational power and allows it to build into a powerful cyclone.

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    Why do hurricanes occur?

    A:

    Hurricanes occur because during the summer months, warm air over the ocean rises to leave an area of low pressure, into which cool air immediately flows. This air too warms up and rises, and new pockets of cool air take its place. As the cycle repeats itself, the warm air eventually cools far above the surface to create clouds, and a hurricane can form.

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