Hurricanes are powerful storms that grow in size over tropical seas. Sometimes these storms lose their power before they reach land, but when they do not they can kill large numbers of people and cause widespread property damage.
Hurricane, typhoon and cyclone are regional names for the same type of storm. Weather experts call them tropical cyclones.
The most deadly tropical cyclone in recorded history is thought to have been the Bangladesh cyclone of 1970, according to the United States Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory. At least 300,000 people are thought to have perished.
Use the BBC News animated hurricane guide to see how hurricanes form.
Image: Hurricane Katrina seen from space (credit: NASA)
Damage from Hurricane Katrina tests the accuracy of computer forecasts.
Dr Hassan Mashriqui from the LSU Hurricane Center uses the high water mark left on buildings across New Orleans to find out how deep the floodwaters from Hurricane Katrina were at their peak. His measurements are important because they will help him to work out the accuracy of his computer model predictions and possibly improve future hurricane damage forecasts.
Stopped clocks are a vital clue for scientists studying failed levees after Hurricane Katrina.
Professor Ivor Van Heerden of the LSU Hurricane Center creates a forensic time map that records when New Orleans levees failed during Hurricane Katrina. He uses stopped clocks to create his map, which is needed to work out what storm conditions caused the levee failures.
Experts explain the ingredients needed for a giant storm.
Experts explain the relatively rare set of conditions needed to generate a hurricane.
A tropical cyclone is a rapidly-rotating storm system characterized by a low-pressure center, strong winds, and a spiral arrangement of thunderstorms that produce heavy rain. Depending on its location and strength, a tropical cyclone is referred to by names such as hurricane (/ˈhʌrɨkeɪn/ or /ˈhʌrɨkən/), typhoon /taɪˈfuːn/, tropical storm, cyclonic storm, tropical depression, and simply cyclone.
Tropical cyclones typically form over large bodies of relatively warm water. They derive their energy from the evaporation of water from the ocean surface, which ultimately recondenses into clouds and rain when moist air rises and cools to saturation. This energy source differs from that of mid-latitude cyclonic storms, such as nor'easters and European windstorms, which are fueled primarily by horizontal temperature contrasts. The strong rotating winds of a tropical cyclone are a result of the (partial) conservation of angular momentum imparted by the Earth's rotation as air flows inwards toward the axis of rotation. As a result, they rarely form within 5° of the equator. Tropical cyclones are typically between 100 and 4,000 km (62 and 2,485 mi) in diameter. A cyclone is turned into a hurricane when the wind speed reaches 75 mph.
The term "tropical" refers to the geographical origin of these systems, which form almost exclusively over tropical seas. The term "cyclone" refers to their cyclonic nature, with wind blowing counterclockwise in the Northern Hemisphere and clockwise in the Southern Hemisphere. The opposite direction of circulation is due to the Coriolis force.
In addition to strong winds and rain, tropical cyclones are capable of generating high waves, damaging storm surge, and tornadoes. They typically weaken rapidly over land where they are cut off from their primary energy source. For this reason, coastal regions are particularly vulnerable to damage from a tropical cyclone as compared to inland regions. Heavy rains, however, can cause significant flooding inland, and storm surges can produce extensive coastal flooding up to 40 kilometres (25 mi) from the coastline. Though their effects on human populations are often devastating, tropical cyclones can relieve drought conditions. They also carry heat energy away from the tropics and transport it toward temperate latitudes, which may play an important role in modulating regional and global climate.
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