AUSTIN (KXAN) – Hurricanes are the most powerful storms on earth. Just one of them can release as much energy as 10,000 nuclear bombs. But how exactly do they form?
The path of a hurricane
A hurricane usually starts its life near the coast of Africa. First, winds blow clusters of thunderstorms off the coast and into the open ocean. These are called African Easterly Waves, or AEWs.
As these storms travel westward, winds blowing across the warm ocean water evaporate some of that water into the air. That moist air rises higher into the storm, where it condenses into clouds.
When this happens, heat is released into the atmosphere. This is called latent heat release. It’s a very important part of tropical cyclogenesis, because as this process repeats itself, it generates more and more warm air which rises into the center of the storm.
Here’s where things get intense. All of that rising warm air creates a void at the center of the storm. Wind then rushes in to fill that void, and all that fast-moving wind begins to spiral due to the rotation of the earth.
What is storm surge?
Finally, high wind and lower pressure pull massive amounts of ocean water toward the center of the storm, raising the level of the ocean underneath the eye. This is called storm surge. The hurricane carries this bubble of water onto the shore, causing massive flooding. This is the most dangerous part of a hurricane, hurting far more people than the wind.
If a hurricane approaches, it’s important to go to higher ground in a sturdy shelter. If there is an evacuation notice, it’s best to just leave.