Global atmospheric circulation

The movement of air across the planet occurs in a specific pattern. The whole system is driven by the equator, which is the hottest part of the Earth. Air rises at the equator, leading to low pressure and rainfall.

When the air reaches the edge of the atmosphere, it cannot go any further and so it travels to the north and south. The air becomes cold and falls to create high pressure and dry conditions at around 30° north and south of the equator. Large cells of air are created in this way. Air rises again at around 60° north and south and descends again around 90° north and south.

Global atmospheric circulation creates winds across the planet and leads to areas of high rainfall, like the tropical rainforests, and areas of dry air, like deserts.

The Hadley cells occur next to the equator. The Polar cells occur next to the North and South Poles. In between the two are the Ferrel cells.

What is a tropical storm?

A tropical storm is a very powerful low-pressure weather system which results in strong winds (over 120 km/h) and heavy rainfall (up to 250 mm in one day). Tropical storms have different names depending on where they occur in the world. In the US and the Caribbean they are known as hurricanes, in South Asia - cyclones, in East Asia - typhoons and in Australia they are known as willy-willies. They all develop in the same way and have the same characteristics.

Tropical storms form where sea temperature is over 27°C. In North America, they are called "hurricanes", "cyclones" in South-West Asia, "typhoons" in East Asia and "willy-willies" in Australia.